Friday, July 29, 2011

NYT investigates OCR's role in enforcement

Another good NYT piece today by Katie Thomas on Title IX enforcement. This one focuses on the Office of Civil Rights and how they do and have (or have not) investigated Title IX complaints. Not surprisingly, investigation and enforcement are politically driven, and we have certainly seen periods of lax enforcement--some of the specifics--like the complaint against USC that began in 1998 and is still not closed--are highlighted in Thomas's article.
But it also offers some hope for better enforcement and attention by the office under the new leadership of Russlynn Ali, who is an Obama appointee.
Other interesting points: the practice of self-investigation where OCR--because it is understaffed and overworked (dealing with all civil rights violations--not just Title IX complaints)--offers a school the opportunity to investigate itself and issue a report to OCR, rather than having OCR come in. I've always been wary--if not outright critical--of this practice because it requires, as Ali notes, a good faith effort in the part of schools. And I remain skeptical that schools, once informed of violations but still reluctant to remedy them--are really worthy of that kind of trust.
And the recent case at Ball State University, which we have not yet written about and which is highlighted in the article, is proof of why self investigations might not be all that effective. Ball State seems to have a problem retaining the coaches of its women's teams. Since 2005 12 head coaches of women's teams have left. There are only 11 women's teams at Ball State. And it is actually being sued by a former tennis coach. Offered the chance to investigate itself, the university, well, dropped the ball. They issued a finding that there was no discrimination--after two weeks! It failed to interview any coaches and didn't produce any new evidence in its report! Let's just reiterate: in an investigation about discriminatory practices in hiring/firing--the university didn't interview one coach;the president said she didn't think it was necessary.
And all is not right at Ball State in terms of facilities. Under pressure from OCR, the university has added some locker rooms for women's teams after it was discovered some athletes were changing in their cars and/or a storage shed.
Still the threat of OCR showing up on campus does compel more earnest responses from other institutions, which is why Ali is not ready to abandon the practice of self investigation.