Title IX Compliance and Then Some

There is an impossibly tough question that all universities must answer, from a legal if not moral perspective. How much of our limited resources should we spend to ensure that the next victim of a sex crime is given the treatment he or she deserves? The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has spent the past year and will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars answering that question.

About a year ago, the university began assembling a full-time team for compliance with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions receiving federal funds. While the law is best known for mandating more athletic programs for women, it has many other ramifications.

UNC-Chapel Hill had at least one glaring incentive to implement a new Title IX compliance system: a public relations nightmare. In January 2013, three students, an alumnus, and former dean of students Melinda Manning sent a 34-page complaint to the Office of Civil Rights in the federal Education Department, charging that UNC-CH violated sexual assault victims’ rights. 

The alleged violations included the administration treating accusers unfairly, failing to train Honor Court members who presided over sexual assault hearings, and failing to provide information to victims. Another grievance was that the university counsel pressured Dean Manning to underreport sexual assault cases. (The university countered that it actually reported more than she submitted.) If the allegations are true, the administration was in violation of Title IX and the Clery Act, a 1990 law dictating campus crime disclosures—among other laws. 

The Office of Civil Rights and the Clery Compliance Division investigated the university last spring, and nothing has come of either investigation, according to Karen Moon, a spokesperson for UNC News Services. Even before the investigations, however, the university decided to address the problem. It continues to do so a year later—perhaps to the point of overkill.

The university has created six full-time positions solely for Title IX compliance, housing them under a new division of the Equal Opportunity/ADA office. The number of full-time Title IX employees at N.C. State? Zero. At Duke? Also zero.

The hiring began in February 2013 with a deputy Title IX officer/student complaint coordinator, Ew Quimbaya-Winship, and attorney Gina Maisto Smith, a specialist in sexual assault cases, who was hired as a consultant. The following month, Jayne Grandes came on board as a Title IX investigator.

That first wave of hires came under the watch of Chancellor Holden Thorp, who stepped down in June. Since Chancellor Carol Folt’s arrival, the university has hired a public communications specialist for the team, Hilary Delbridge, a second investigator named Kimberly Dixon, and Howard Kallem, the Title IX compliance coordinator. The university is still looking for a program coordinator. 

The university is also looking for a gender violence services coordinator—an “advocate for survivors,” according to UNC News Services spokeswoman Susan Hudson. This staff member would work in the Carolina Women’s Center in a position paid for through a Department of Justice grant.

UNC-CH administrators involved in the process of hiring the team declined to be interviewed by phone or in person for this story after repeated phone and email requests.

In May 2013, the university also put together a 22-member task force that meets once a month to devise a new campus policy for responding to Title IX complaints, ranging from sexual assault to discrimination. Gina Smith was hired for eight months at a flat rate of $160,000 to oversee the implementation of this policy. The task force, made up mostly of faculty, students, and staff members, has still not completed the policy after 11 months; Chairwoman Christi Hurt said in late February that it was 85 percent complete. Smith is now in her 14th month at the university.

Membership on the task force was voluntary and did not require any new funding per se. The six-member compliance team, meanwhile, will cost the university upwards of $479,000 per year, at minimum. Add the salary for Smith’s first eight months to that total and the university is spending at least $639,000 to bolster its Title IX compliance. The university could not provide Smith’s salary figures for the last six months.

It should be noted that the list of on-campus resources for students with sexual assault or discrimination experiences is extensive. Before the public complaint, the university already housed the Carolina Women’s Center, a project focused on gender equity and diversity. Students with complaints could also go to the counseling and wellness center, the campus health services, the public safety department, the LGBTQ Center, the office of diversity and multicultural affairs, the dean of students, the office of student conduct, or the ombuds office, a place where students and staff can go for assistance more generally. There was also, of course, the Equal Opportunity/ADA office, where the new Title IX team is situated.

Indeed, Title IX compliance coordinator Howard Kallem considers many of these resources as part of his “larger team”; that is, “all folks who are or should be involved in dealing with sexual assault in some fashion.” 

Kallem is the most high-profile of UNC-CH’s new hires, heading the Title IX team at $155,000 annually. For 15 years, he was the chief Washington, D.C., regional attorney for the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. He spent 14 years with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and also worked as an equal opportunity specialist at George Mason University in Virginia.

In an interview with the Pope Center, Kallem said that the lack of full-time Title IX positions at other schools is a problem. In his experience observing part-time Title IX coordinators, he said, “very often this was a position that was somebody who…wouldn’t have the authority to do anything if they suspected that there wasn’t [Title IX] compliance because they were low down in the hierarchy.” Furthermore, he indicated that people often do not know who their  school’s Title IX coordinators are, including the coordinators themselves.

When asked why UNC-CH needs a full team of Title IX compliance specialists when comparable institutions have none, Kallem said, “I don’t know that you can compare us quite so neatly to other institutions.” He said that other schools might have six or seven investigators, “but these investigators will wear a variety of hats.” In other words, Carolina’s new six-person team is unusual more for its division of labor than for its total manpower.

UNC-Chapel Hill is far from alone in facing criticism of its response to claims of sexual assault. In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights mandated through a “Dear Colleague” letter that universities revisit their sexual assault policies. UNC-CH responded by drafting a new policy in 2012, notably reducing the burden of proof for assault charges. This new policy was out of date in less than a year, when the 22-member task force convened to update it again last May.

Kallem said, “When the OCR tells you that your policies and procedures are different and inadequate,” a university must comply.

The Daily Tar Heel gave an alternate explanation, reporting that while the 2012 policy was in response to the “Dear Colleague” letter, the current revisions are a response to feedback from the campus community. It is not altogether clear that the university’s policies were inadequate in the first place—the university acted on its own accord.

Kallem justified the Title IX hirings on the grounds that sexual harassment is against the law and has a disruptive effect on students’ lives. He added, “Regardless of what statistics you read, any sexual assault is too much sexual assault.”

But how much Title IX compliance is too much compliance?

While the volunteer task force is meant to disband after it completes the new policy, the Title IX team has no sunset in sight. “Listen—it’s a big issue to deal with,” Kallem emphasized when asked about the long-term goals for the team.

Kallem could not estimate how many Title IX grievances the team has received, but said “it’s an issue that’s terribly underreported” and that “we’re not getting enough” complaints. “I think success for us will be seeing an increase,” Kallem said.