University continues search for vacant Title IX positions

Jess Kaplan and Griffin Perrault, Print Managing Co-Editors

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, institutions of higher education have a responsibility to take effective action to prevent, punish and redress instances of sexual violence. Since that time, successive presidential administrations –– notably the Obama administration –– pushed tough policies for protecting women on college campuses. In 2011, for instance, the Office of Civil Rights for the Obama Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” Letter (DCL) on sexual violence, which imposed requirements on higher education institutions to designate a Title IX and Interpersonal Violence Coordinator, providing federal funding in order to achieve this goal. These offices are responsible for handling all complaints of sexual assault, sexual violence and gender discrimination on campus.

Upon the departure of Title IX Coordinator Kate Grimes and Interpersonal Violence Coordinator Rebecca Geiger in early 2020––who both accepted positions at other universities––their positions have yet to be filled by full-time candidates. While interim Coordinator Abby DelGiacco has provided Title IX services since Grimes’s departure, her position was only intended to be temporary; the University has yet to hire an interim Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator. 

“These are two vitally important roles to fill at the University,”  said Director of Media Relations Mike Ferlazzo on behalf of the search committee. The terms of the current search are fairly stringent––applicants must possess either a Master’s or Law (J.D.) degree, five years of experience in Title IX compliance, and a strong knowledge of related laws and regulations. “The challenges are always recruiting someone with the best qualifications to come to Bucknell to serve in these respective positions,” Ferlazzo explained.

In an email to the University’s faculty on Aug. 28, 2020, President Bravman comprehensively updated faculty on the status of the position: “For the Title IX Coordinator, the search committee has vetted and interviewed several candidates, but the interviewed candidates have not presented credentials and/or profiles that align with Bucknell’s required qualifications. The Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator position was originally posted in late January 2020 and ultimately put on hold due to COVID. The position is currently being re-posted.” 

Concurrently with this protracted search, the University has also been working to align its procedure with a suite of new Title IX compliance requirements published by the Trump administration in May 2020, which established more structured grievance procedures for an individual reporting sexual harassment. While the administration argues that these adjustments balance Title IX’s intent with constitutionally-guaranteed precepts of due process, critics contend that such changes may deter victims from reporting on-campus sexual harassment. 

In the Aug. 28 memo, Bravman also outlined the development of related Title IX positions to adhere to policy changes enacted by the Trump administration. Under these new regulations, the University would also hire a Title IX investigator who would, “develop the facts related to each Formal Complaint and to present those reports to the hearing panel.” They also require the University to provide advisors (free of charge) to any party who can actively participate in the Title IX hearing. “The amplification of the Title IX hearing process as a quasi-judicial hearing where parties may be cross-examined by attorneys may make it more difficult to find volunteers who are willing to serve in the advisor role,” Bravman warned. On Apr. 6, the Biden administration announced plans to overhaul the Trump era Title IX campus sexual assault policy, which are likely to have an effect on the aforementioned adjustments to hiring, training, and procedure for Title IX-related issues. 

The absence of these roles has not gone unnoticed to students, particularly posing a challenge for SpeakUp, the University’s peer education program that is responsible for misconduct prevention, education and awareness campaigns on campus. “These two positions have been crucial in overseeing the implementation of workshops for first years, along with events and programming for the rest of the student body. Based on their absence, as well as the presence of a pandemic, it has been difficult for speak up to function as it normally would and to bring awareness of the organization to the rest of campus,” shared Lily Shaner ‘21, a SpeakUp ally. “With these roles not being filled, the student body is missing crucial resources that are integral for a supportive and safe college experience.”

Responding to The Bucknellian via email, Ferlazzo shared that the search committee hopes the role of Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator will be filled by the end of the week. The committee will continue to recruit for the role of Title IX Coordinator, but no clear prospects have yet been announced. 

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