Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Don't forget to follow the law!

The Department of Education released three new documents last week related to Title IX,  specifically the role of the Title IX coordinator.

One is a "Dear colleague" letter from Secretary Catherine Lhamon that begins by reminding all schools that they must appoint a Title IX coordinator:
"I write to remind you that all school districts, colleges, and universities that receive federal assistance must designate at least one individual to coordinate their efforts to comply with and carry out their responsibilities under Title IX..."

This set of documents related to the position of Title IX Coordinator is very important, especially the letter to coordinators and a resource guide. But as the "Dear colleague" letter points out, these are not new guidelines. Title IX is in its fourth decade. Why do schools need a reminder that they have to follow it?

Yes, the role of the coordinator has become far more prominent in the past several years given the visibility of campus sexual assault. Yes, it is important for the Department of Education to continue to inform schools and coordinators of their responsibilities as the application of the law shifts, new issues arise, and great accountability is being called for. Part of the reason, however, for the increased visibility of the Title IX coordinator is because when students started demanding a response from  administrators to campus sexual assault very few people knew who the Title IX coordinator was--sometimes this included the Title IX coordinator because the duties of Title IX compliance were wrapped up in another administrator's position. This is no longer a desirable practice. As the "dear colleague" letter notes, the coordinator is supposed to answer directly to the president and be "independent." Also, Lhamon suggests that larger schools might consider having more than one coordinator to both handle all the issues that arise and to make the position more visible to more of the school community.

Again, guidance is good. My frustration lies in the fact that this is not a new requirement. I cannot help but think that maybe there wouldn't be 100+ schools under investigation if schools had taken their responsibility regarding oversight more seriously. I watched The Hunting Ground last weekend (which I will write about this week hopefully) and was fully confronted by the ineptitude and ignorance of so many administrators. There is no excuse. There is a law. Follow it.