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In the midst of a debate over Title IX implementation nationwide and within the University, the federal government published guidance on Friday that could strengthen the role of Title IX coordinators at many schools, including Harvard.
In three separate documents, which combined span over 40 pages, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights clarified the role of Title IX coordinators, who are responsible for ensuring institutions receiving federal funding comply with Title IX, an anti-sex discrimination law. The guidance adds to efforts by the government to clarify Title IX requirements, including the release of Title IX policy recommendations last April.
The documents lay out many recommendations for the training and function of the position, including a requirement that the institution specify a commitment to complying with Title IX on all “recruitment materials," including applications and bulletins. The guidance also states that recipients of federal funding should provide Title IX coordinators with “access to information regarding enrollment in particular subject areas, participation in athletics, administration of school discipline, and incidents of sex-based harassment.”
University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in an email that the University is currently “reviewing the guidance and will discuss with OCR any necessary updates.”
Taken in sum, the guidance more explicitly emphasizes the authority and importance of Title IX coordinators, according to Peter F. Lake ’81, a professor at Stetson University College of Law who specializes in higher education law.
“It is a signal that the regulatory interventions will continue to come,” said Lake, who is also an interim Title IX coordinator at Stetson. “This was definitely significant guidance; this was not a blip on the screen.”
Lake added that the guidance, with its emphasis on the need for the Title IX coordinator’s autonomy and direct access to institutional leadership, places the Title IX coordinator in a uniquely powerful position to enforce legal compliance. The guidance stipulates that the institution “must not interfere” with the duties of the Title IX coordinator to ensure compliance.
“It's essentially unprecedented in federal regulatory law to put so much power of the federal government behind the protection of an administrative employee of the University,” Lake said.
At least one of the specific recommendations, that universities appoint independent Title IX coordinators, could be in tension with the College’s current operations. While the letter states that the government does not “categorically exclude” any particular university employee from serving as a Title IX coordinator, it cautions against conflicts of interests that could arise when administrators such as disciplinary board members, deans of students, and general counsel attorneys double up on the role.
William Cooper ’94 and Emily J. Miller serve as the College’s Title IX coordinators, in addition to their positions as Associate Dean of Student Life and case manager for the College’s disciplinary body, respectively. Neither Cooper nor Miller, who is not a member of the Administrative Board and does not participate in cases that she has previously addressed in her capacity as Title IX coordinator, could be reached for comment. Many other schools within the University, including the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School, have appointed Title IX coordinators who also serve in roles as administrators of student affairs.
Mia Karvonides, the University’s Title IX Officer who heads the office, could not be reached for comment. DeLuzuriaga wrote that “whenever a situation may present a real or perceived conflict of interest for a local Title IX coordinator, Title IX responsibilities are shifted or the employee may be recused.”
Organizers for Our Harvard Can Do Better, an anti-sexual assault advocacy group that spurred a now open Title IX investigation at the College, said the College’s use of Title IX coordinators who also serve in other roles could present a problem.
“In the abstract, it’s quite certainly a concern…. It’s not great,” said Emily M. Fox-Penner ’17, an organizer for the group.
Last week, OCR attorneys visited campus to solicit student input for the ongoing federal probe into the College’s Title IX compliance.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.
—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.
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