UPDATED: January 5, 2017 at 1:03 p.m.
Mia Karvonides, the University’s Title IX Officer, will leave Harvard on Jan. 17 to accept a position in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the University announced Wednesday.
Bill D. McCants, the University’s Deputy Title IX Officer, will serve as the Acting Title IX Officer after Karvonides’s departure. Karvonides, who worked for the federal government before coming to Harvard, will serve as the Enforcement Director for the federal agency that oversees colleges and universities’ compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX, among other nondiscrimination laws.
In her new role, Karvonides will advise top officials at OCR headquarters and work with regional directors around the country on other areas of civil rights law in addition to Title IX. Her new job, which will begin on Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C., involves working with elementary and secondary education institutions, as well as colleges and universities.
“Just being able to go back to my broader portfolio of civil rights work is important to me,” Karvonides said. “I’m excited to work with the folks in headquarters but I am also really excited to work with the regional directors.”
Karvonides, who previously worked in OCR’s Boston Office, said she looks forward to “being involved with civil rights work in other parts of the United States.”
Karvonides came to Cambridge in 2013 as Harvard’s first University-wide Title IX Officer. Under her tenure, Harvard unveiled a new policy and set of procedures governing how the University responds to cases of sexual harassment and assault. She served as the first director of the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution, the central office that handles sexual harassment complaints from across the University.
Initially understaffed, Karvonides's office established a “pipeline program” to grow ODR and bolster the the office’s ability to handle a growing caseload. She also took a series of steps to publicize information about the University’s Title IX resources, including launching a new website and publishing Frequently Asked Questions documents.
"I think the most challenging thing, especially with ODR, was having to build it so quickly,” Karvonides said. “It’s a complex program to get up and running and to have to do that in such a short time frame was difficult, but the payoff was well worth it."
But her time at Harvard was not without challenges. In 2014, before the University announced Harvard’s new Title IX policies, undergraduate students charged that the Harvard College’s response to sexual assault complaints violated federal guidelines, and the federal government opened an investigation. Months later, OCR, where Karvonides will now work, found that Harvard Law School’s “current and prior” sexual assault policies violated federal Title IX law.
The new policies that Karvonides helped craft were also the subject of intense pushback from Law School professors who charged that Harvard’s approach to sexual assault was “stacked against the accused.” The Law School eventually adopted its own set of procedures for investigating sexual assault complaints, departing from the University’s once-centralized framework.
Harvard also faced a Title IX lawsuit during Karvonides’s tenure, when a recent alumna filed a suit last February charging that the University mishandled her sexual harassment case and violated Title IX. The University later filed to dismiss the suit.
Karvonides said she is happy with the progress Harvard has made to respond to sexual assault on campus in the last few years. In an email to colleagues, Deputy Provost Peggy E. Newell delineated the work Karvonides has done and thanked her for "her tremendous service."
“In her time at the University, Mia has helped create a strong framework to help Harvard prevent instances of sexual harassment and assault,” Newell wrote in an email to her colleagues announcing Karvonides’s departure. “We are grateful for her service to the University community, and we are glad to see her continue her important work in Title IX and more broadly in other Federal civil rights area.”
Karvonides said she is proud of the increase in the number of complaints filed with ODR and disclosures made to Title IX coordinators during her tenure—a development she believes is indicative of students growing more trustful of the Title IX office. Title IX Coordinators at the College received 121 disclosures of potential sexual assault incidents in the last academic year, nearly a fourfold increase from the 2013-2014 school year. ODR has also continued to received an increased number of complaints.
“The fact that people are coming forward to file a complaints is an important progress point,” Karvonides said. “It’s not enough to have a good procedure and have well trained staff and have a good process in place if no one is accessing it. I can tell you, with every investigation that’s been conducted, every finding we’ve made, I can stand 100 percent behind each and every case.”
Newell is leading transition efforts at ODR as Karvonides prepares to leave the University. Ongoing projects such as online training modules will proceed on schedule, Karvonides said. She and Newell are working to ensure that the transition is “seamless” and Title IX coordinators across schools continue to receive support during the process.
“We’ve got a good group of people to keep things going,” Karvonides said. “Some of the transition planning is keeping projects moving and the day to day work on track but then also with an eye towards moving forward.”
In recent years, ODR has worked more closely with the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response—a trend Karvonides said will continue after her departure. The offices have collaborated on training programs and partnerships with peer counselor groups on campus.
“We’re constantly looking for different ways where we can partner with OSAPR,” she said. “The two offices have distinct roles but there are so many opportunities for us to move forward together in supporting students in this area.”
Karvonides also said ODR is exploring new online tools and offerings, such as an online training module for faculty and staff like the one the College debuted for students last fall.
Karvonides declined to comment on the search for her successor.
–Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
This article has been updated to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: January 4, 2017
A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Deputy Provost Peggy E. Newell announced the departure of University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides in a press release. In fact, Newell wrote to her colleagues about Karvonides's departure.