Reacting to an op-ed signed by more than a quarter of the Harvard Law School faculty that condemned the University's new sexual assault policy, University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides on Monday defended the role she and her office play in the investigatory process.
Among other points, the open op-ed questioned the impartiality of the newly-created Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution (ODR) charged with investigating sexual misconduct cases and determining whether there was a violation of policy.
In an interview on Monday, Karvonides said that she disagrees with suggestions that ODR would not be impartial in handling sexual misconduct cases.
“I don’t know what we have put out, I don’t know what we have said to give anyone that impression,” Karvonides said. “I approach this work as neutral.”
She further emphasized that as the University continues its efforts to fill two ODR investigator positions, administrators have been searching for candidates that they have confidence will handle cases with impartiality.
Regardless of Karvonides’ assurances, Law School professors critical of the policy contend that the problem with the office is inherent and structural.
“Karvonides is under immense pressure to increase the number of complaints filed and the number of people held responsible. This is structural. She can be and is a professional and an expert, but she can’t undo that structure,” Law School professor Janet Halley said.
She said the neutrality of the office is lost because the Title IX officer holds roles that are traditionally separated in legal systems, including producing charges in some cases, investigating claims, adjudicating guilt, and hearing appeals.
Addressing that concern in part, Karvonides said on Monday that she has decided that appeals will be referred to a designee who will be separate from either the investigatory process or the ODR office, as allowed by the University policy. She added that the identity of that designee was “soon to come.”
“In my mind, we fail in our work under Title IX if we are viewed as being biased or even advocates, or in any way that this isn’t a fair process,” Karvonides said. “If we’re going to make progress, people need to understand, to have trust and have confidence that this is an unbiased process.”
DRAFTING A COMPLAINT
The op-ed raised an array of other criticisms against the University policy, including infringements on academic freedom, overstepping guidelines set by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and a skewed process in favor of complainants.
The op-ed garnered support from many of the biggest names among tenured and retired faculty at the Law School, including Martha A. Field ’65, Charles J. Ogletree, and Alan M. Dershowitz, who retired last year.
"There were just a huge number of people on the faculty who were concerned about the nature of the Harvard University policy,” Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet said.
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