President's Message Regarding Title IX, 2/8/19.

 

President’s Message Regarding Title IX, 2/8/19

Dear Drew community members,

I appreciate the community’s input about the new Title IX structure. It has come through various routes–meetings that I and others on the Cabinet had with students and faculty, individual conversations, from the Feminist Intersection and from the petition regarding Title IX that I received in Mead Hall.

The administration, and I personally, strongly support Title IX and the protections it provides. The safety and security of our students and other community members is of the utmost importance, and we are confident that the recent changes in the Title IX structure will provide a safe, fair, respectful, and compliant coordination of Title IX related complaints. Drew will continue to provide and enhance educational and preventative programming.  

This communication is meant to address the Drew community as a whole, to outline the structural changes in Title IX, and to be inclusive of topics raised in commentary and questions. Many questions addressed to me and my colleagues clustered around a set of topics and an effort was made to address them collectively in this message. Additional responses to other questions are here. We also worked with the Title IX Student Advisory Board on a Google Form that can be used by members of the community to privately ask further questions. Responses to questions submitted on the Google Form will appear on an ongoing basis here.

New structure and avenues for reporting

Frank Merckx, the vice president for campus life and student affairs, has primary responsibility for our Title IX efforts, along with four deputy Title IX coordinators: Stephanie Pelham, Lynn Vogel, Tanya Linn Bennett, and Joshua Phillips. Also on the team are Jane Karger, Athletics Title IX liaison, independent, professional investigators and Maria Force, AA/EEO officer. Contact information can be found here and additional Title IX resources are available through our health services, counseling services, and the university chaplain. Maria is also working with Sari Pascoe, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, to establish a separate AA/EEO Committee and we are continuing to explore further changes in the AA/EEO structure.

Anyone with a Title IX concern or complaint can approach any of the individuals listed above. Additionally, Drew adheres to the Title IX mandate that all Drew staff and faculty (except for medical professionals, psychological or psychiatric counselors, or pastoral counselors acting under their recognized legal privileges) have an obligation to report instances of sexual misconduct when they learn of them. All information regarding a Title IX concern, complaint, or process is held in the strictest confidence by all involved, including the Title IX investigators who work with the university.

Title IX processes have not changed

Drew’s investigation and case review processes have not changed; they remain the same, as reflected on the website. Contact, process, and reporting information on the Title IX website has been kept up to date through the transition, ensuring that those seeking new contact with the Title IX office have the appropriate information available, and the website was updated concurrent with Frank Merckx taking on the Title IX coordinator role.

Handling of ongoing cases

In concert with the structural changes, all parties involved in previously documented and ongoing cases were informed about the changes to the structure, and that the process would continue uninterrupted. Those with an ongoing case who would like to review its status should contact Frank Merckx.

Communication after the changes

We made some communication choices that in retrospect could have been made differently and I apologize for the deep concern this has caused. We followed a standardized process for communicating a personnel change, and that process did not work well in this instance. In general, for privacy purposes, we do not make campus announcements about single individuals leaving the university through involuntary separation resulting from organizational changes. This is first and foremost to protect the privacy of the individual and to follow general human resources guidelines.

In this case, we followed the regular process, which is to notify those directly involved with that individual in the course of their work, and/or those community members who were directly and immediately impacted by the change. The Title IX/EEO Committee and the Student Advisory Board were informed and their work continued uninterrupted. We also immediately updated the website with current information so that those seeking Title IX information would find it up to date and accurate. In this case there were community members not fitting either of those categories who feel strongly that our approach was not sufficient. We learned something from this about communication protocols, and we are re-evaluating future approaches to balance privacy and possible needs for broader communication.

Making the decision to change the structure

I addressed the community about Drew’s significant efforts to reduce expenses overall and to make the very best use of our resources. Over the past year we have benchmarked the entire institution and its component parts. That is, we compared our staffing structure in all areas to that of other institutions that are similar to Drew. We then examined all university structures to determine if we could achieve the same outcomes in another way. This process was followed in this case.  

We benchmarked against three groups of institutions: Drew’s regular peer group of national liberal arts colleges and universities (the group that we use for all university benchmarking), the independent colleges and universities in New Jersey (some of whom are competitor institutions), and a set of institutions from the Council of Independent Colleges who responded to a listserv query. The results showed that a “sole duty coordinator” Title IX structure was rare and that the Title IX coordinator role was more often assigned to individuals in a range of other areas such as student affairs, human resources, and institutional resources and with titles such as professor, provost, associate provost, dean, associate dean, and chief of staff/assistant to the president, among others. Out of a total of 50 institutions from these three benchmark sets, only seven had “sole duty coordinators,” and some of those are significantly larger than Drew.

The role of the coordinator

The assigned responsibilities of the Title IX coordinator remain the same under the new structure. The primary responsibility of the Title IX coordinator is to ensure compliance with Title IX. This includes grievance procedures for resolving Title IX complaints, coordinating responses to all complaints of possible sex discrimination, monitoring outcomes of grievances, working to address educational needs and prevention efforts, identifying and addressing any patterns that may exist, and assessing effects on the campus climate.

The deputy Title IX coordinators, along with the Title IX coordinator, are able to receive complaints of sexual misconduct, including domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault, as well as discrimination and harassment based on gender or sex. The deputy coordinators also assist the Title IX coordinator with implementing various activities around education and prevention. All deputy coordinators are able to receive an inquiry or complaint from anyone–student, faculty, or staff–including from those outside their normal school or functional area.

Students and others need safe spaces when they seek counsel about a Title IX issue or make a complaint, and they may feel the need for a personal advocate. Several comments and questions we received centered around the loss of personal advocacy and counseling in a confidential setting that might be found in the person holding the role of Title IX coordinator in a single Title IX coordinator system. The Title IX coordinator’s role is to provide and coordinate a system that ensures confidentiality, fairness, timeliness, protection, and compliance with state and federal guidelines and mandates.  

Personal counseling and advocacy are very important. Counseling resources are available through the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services as well as with the university chaplain, Taylor Bean. The University also works with Morris Cares to provide advocates and counselors, who can work with students. Through a grant, we will soon have a campus survivor advocate available to work with students and others. Additionally, our policy allows for complainants and respondents to have an advisor of their choosing throughout the process.

My colleagues and I have heard from the community that it is very important that we assess these resources, their availability, and the means of communicating that availability to the campus. We will work with the Title IX Student Advisory Board to do so, with the goal of ensuring that under the current structure we provide both a best practice Title IX system, and strong and responsive opportunities for personal advocacy and counsel.

One reason I am confident that the new Title IX structure will be effective is because of Frank Merckx’s extensive background in Title IX and related topics. He’s worked with both Morris County and the State of New Jersey on issues of sexual and relationship violence, and has worked as a trained sexual assault advocate for Morris County. He serves on the Jersey Battered Women’s Service (JBWS) Adult Services Subcommittee and has partnered with Morris Cares and JBWS to bring programming to Drew. Frank was appointed by the governor and served on the NJ Campus Sexual Assault Task Force. Additionally, Frank has presented on Title IX at both regional and national conferences and has been cited as an expert in national publications. The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities regards Frank as its prime statewide expert on Title IX issues. Frank has the background, training, and knowledge not only to ensure that Drew’s Title IX systems and processes are best practice, but also to keep abreast of any changes in state or federal regulations and guidance.

Education and training

We also continue to enhance the educational, program, and response functions of the Title IX Office. For example, we are pleased that we are finalizing the addition of a grant-funded survivor advocate who will begin working with Drew and other County higher education institutions. We are continuing to work with the Morris County Sexual Assault Response Team, NJ Title IX Committee and other external organizations.

Educational offerings continue to take place through some of our academic and faculty-driven programs; members of our staff and Student Advisory board continue to work with our county partners of Morris Cares and JBWS who provide onsite training on sexual and relationship violence; the Title IX Committee and Student Advisory Board will continue to explore the best ways to implement the Action Plan which includes areas previously identified as potential educational opportunities; and in-person and online training and education for incoming students and employees continues.

Next steps

It is important to continue to assess Drew’s Title IX/AA/EEO enforcement and services to the community and we are committed to continuing the conversation through existing structures and advisory committees. We identified these areas for immediate further review as a result of comments and questions from the community:

  • Consideration of adding/or moving a deputy coordinator or liaison role outside of Campus Life and Student Affairs, perhaps to a designated faculty member or other individual on campus, to provide options to students and others.
  • Consideration of designating a Title IX ombudsperson as another measure to ensure that our Title IX implementation is fair and effective.
  • Examination and consideration of opportunities for personal advocacy, and how to meet community member needs in this area.
  • Examination of and revision where necessary of campus communication mechanisms related to Title IX that balance privacy, confidentiality, and possible need for broad communication.
  • Consideration of where the responsibility for AA/EEO should lie.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and, more importantly, for your engagement with this very serious issue and the thought that you put into your commentary and questions. I again apologize for the deep concern our choices regarding communication may have caused, and I hope that you will understand the multiple privacy concerns that go into communicating broadly about personnel matters.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Title IX office with any further questions. If you are concerned about privacy in asking a question, I encourage you to submit those questions through the Google Form. If you have personal questions or confidential questions related to what you feel is a Title IX issue, please reach out to any of the deputy coordinators, or any trusted faculty or staff member.

I believe this new and enhanced structure demonstrates Drew’s unwavering commitment to its Title IX obligations and that our efforts in this area will not just continue what’s already been done but also build on a very strong foundation. Please send any questions to president@drew.edu or submit them via the Google Form.

Best regards,

MaryAnn