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Harvard will begin a process to replace Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides in the coming weeks, looking to fill a position that some Title IX experts say will be widely sought after.
Karvonides, the University’s first Title IX Officer, left Harvard on Jan. 17 for a position in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, surprising some students. Bill D. McCants, the Deputy Title IX Officer at the time of Karvonides’s departure, is serving as Acting Title IX Officer until Harvard finds a permanent replacement.
Since Karvonides’s departure, the Title IX office has focused on managing the transition, according to Harvard spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga. The University’s first priority is ensuring the Title IX office can maintain normal operations throughout the search process, she said.
“It is critically important that we have staff in place to handle the caseload, that we do not lose the gains that we have made in investigating cases in a timely and thorough manner, and that we do not lose momentum on some of the important projects of the office,” deLuzuriaga wrote in an emailed statement.
In its efforts to ease the transition, the University has hired a new Title IX fellow, who will join the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution on Jan. 30, and has “made temporary assignment adjustments” for staffers in the Title IX and ODR offices, deLuzuriaga wrote. The Office for Dispute Resolution is the central office that handles sexual harassment complaints from across the University.
Harvard will officially launch its search for Karvonides’s replacement some time in the next few weeks, according to deLuzuriaga. The Office for Dispute Resolution was initially understaffed, and Karvonides spearheaded a “pipeline program” to help bolster the office’s growth during her tenure.
Peter F. Lake ’81, a professor at Stetson University College of Law who specializes in higher education law, said he did not think Harvard would have difficulty hiring a new Title IX Officer qualified for the position. He said he thinks the job is “particularly appealing” and will likely attract an “exceptional” applicant pool.
The appeal of the position stems from the many challenges Harvard’s Title IX Officer will face, Lake said, pointing to the ongoing federal probe of the College’s compliance with Title IX and recent scrutiny of Harvard’s athletics department as examples.
“To me, if you want to be the best Title IX coordinator in America, the Harvard challenges and opportunities will give you the chance to prove that you can be that person," Lake said. “It’s a signature opportunity.”
He added that anyone wary of dealing with these issues would not be the right person for the job.
Colby Bruno, the senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center, agreed with Lake. She said she thought the University would not have trouble finding many “good” candidates, though she noted Karvonides left “big shoes to fill.”
Both Bruno and Lake said they could see Harvard going with either an outside or an inside hire for the position. Bruno emphasized that both decisions would have merits and drawbacks.
“I think there’s a push and pull,” she said. “Of course you want the search done and the end to come quickly, but you don’t want it to be a rash decision, you don’t want to hire from the inside because it’s the easy thing to do.”
Bruno said she thought Harvard should look first and foremost for someone who will remain committed to Title IX enforcement independent of national political change. In the wake of Karvonides’s departure, some Harvard student activists said they thought federal enforcement of Title IX could weaken under President-elect Donald Trump, a lapse they worried might negatively affect victims of sexual assault at the University.
Reflecting on the situation, Lake reiterated that he thought the possibilities for Harvard’s next Title IX Officer were endless.
“Imagine somebody coming in and reconciling the Harvard Law faculty with the rest of the community, and crafting a policy that the finals clubs could let live, and working with the athletes,” he said. “You could be a real hero.”
–Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.
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