Monday, November 14, 2016

University of Maryland's Title IX Fee

* There is a lot to say about what last week's election of Donald Trump means for Title IX. I am still gathering my thoughts and reading others'. Meanwhile, I continue with my commitment to public scholarship and advocacy of gender equality in education in this forum as I contemplate how else I can best make change.*

Old news: The University of Maryland student senate voted to implement a fee of $34 per student to help fund the school's "understaffed and overworked" Title IX office. As Erin told Inside Higher Ed, this is the first time we have heard of a university using student fees to fund its Title IX Office.

First thing to note is that, though the SGA approved the fee, it was not a done deal; which leads to...

...newer news: the SGA has decided not to devote student fees to the Title IX office. After the national news attention UMD received, the president held a meeting with SGA leaders and said the university would fund the office. It has committed to hire an additional investigator, two professionals in the health care center dedicated to counseling on these issues, and it will hire a firm to evaluate how UMD handles sexual assault reports. 

Apparently the move by the SGA was one intended to pressure the administration to pay more attention to the issue of sexual assault on campus. And it worked. In addition to the news coverage, state legislators started asking questions about why the burden of funding the Title IX office was being put directly on students.

SGA leaders, however, did say that they would reintroduce the idea of the fee if they did not see the university following through.

Initially it appeared that the university really needed the money from the students. But now money has been found in the budget. The people who work in compliance are pleased with the additional funding. It seems that things have tough in the past few years. The Title IX Office does not even have an office--two years after UMD hired its first Title IX coordinator.

A spokesperson for the university had called the vote to fund the office in part through student fees "a show of support for the important mission of the Title IX office."

The better show of support is the university fully funding its Title IX office and its mission; a mission that it is legally required to undertake. Could they have chosen this method of funding? Yes. But as it turned out the ethics and the optics of this route to compliance drew a lot of questions.

The commitment to the "important mission" was already suspect. Two years without an office? That is a nearly impossible and potentially dangerous situation. One, the amount of paperwork and organization is immense. Managing all of that without a permanent home impedes the ability of staff  Two, there are privacy issues involved. A mobile or constantly shifting office compromises privacy And, if there is no permanent home, how do students know where to go? While there are other reporting options--professors, residence hall assistants and directors, counseling and health services--all of those people, as well as students, should know where the Title IX officer is located.

Though there may be other universities in similar situations (underfunded Title IX offices), UMD's situation made national news. We will likely hear more about how the university chooses to demonstrate its institutional support of Title IX.