Campus officials weigh in on Title IX investigation results

Erin McGroarty / Sun Star

The results of a self-imposed investigation into the University of Alaska’s non-compliance with Title IX regulations, conducted by Anchorage attorneys Jeff Feldman and Kristin Anger, have recently been released.  In an email sent university wide on April 22, UA President Jim Johnsen detailed the causes and effects of the university’s failure to meet Title IX requirements.

“Feldman felt it was an environment on this campus that was simply not paying attention,” Johnsen said.

In October of 2015, President Johnsen and Interim Chancellor Mike Powers joined the Board of Regents in examining the situation and communicating what they knew at the time to the community, Johnsen said.

“I was new to the job and Chancellor Powers was as well,” Johnsen said. “While most other universities waited until the Federal Department of Education finished its investigation, we felt that was unacceptable and it was very clear that we needed to disclose what we knew then.”

It was at this time the university hired Feldman and Anger to investigate the causes of this disciplinary collapse.

Both Feldman and Johnsen found one of biggest issues to be dating back to 2011 when the Federal Department of Education (DOE) changed Title IX regulations and guidelines on how cases should be handled.

According to previous guidelines, once a case was reported and student safety addressed, the case was handed over to the police and that was the end of university involvement with the issue.

“Previously if a case came in the door, folks would call the police and have them take care of it,” Johnsen said. “They would do their own investigations, in many cases concluding in convictions and jail time.”

In 2011 the DOE informed universities this was not enough.

According to the newer regulations, universities are required to conduct their own investigation into the case, perform their own adjudication and determine and implement their own discipline in addition to a full police investigation.

However, the UA continued to follow the older regulations, leaving the majority of the work up to the police.

“Organizationally there was a serious break down,” Johnsen said.

Since taking office, President Johnsen and Chancellor Mike Powers have made this issue top priority.

“I give Chancellor Powers a lot of credit here,” Johnsen said. “Since he came on board he’s really grabbed onto this thing and led, I think, extremely effectively. I think there’s been tremendous improvement.”

On top of implementing recent policies holding university officials responsible for full Title IX compliance, sexual assault and violence prevention programs and seminars have become much more prevalent across campuses.

In the past several months, Green Dot, a national violence prevention and advocacy program, has become active on campus, providing training and education for students, staff and faculty.

Regent John Davies, acting as Chair of the Board of Regents Title IX sub-committee, has traveled to all three of the universities main campuses, as well as some of the more remote campuses, to gather input from students, staff and faculty about changes they would like to see in how these cases are handled across the university.

“I wanted to do what you might call a compliance audit,” Davies said.

This included setting up meetings with Title IX staff at each campus.

“I also met with students and staff to get their concerns regarding how we were doing with implementing the Title IX response,” Davies said. “I also talked to them about improving the campus climate so that people can feel that campuses are a safer place to be.”

Davies felt that the biggest failures in Title IX compliance were at UAF.

“There’s been a lot of work going on here at UAF, which is promising,” Davies said.

On his listening tour, Davies focused on how the community felt about the implementation of a proper incident response system.

While he thinks improvements are being made across the university with regard to implementing a proper response and discipline system, he would like to see more work being done in terms of prevention.

<"Are we doing enough education, training and trying to have discussions around the issue so that we begin the process of changing the culture around rape," Davies said. "Are we changing people’s attitudes and are we beginning to send the message that very clearly this is not ok? That is my focus." DOE is also investigating the the University of Alaska with regard to their failure to comply with discipline regulations, however these results have not yet been released as the investigation is still under way. "We do have a lot of work to do still," Johnsen said. "We have positions to add. We have policies to finish up, and despite the budgetary situation we will have those positions and policies. I mean it’s just too damn important."

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