April 22, 2016
To download a recording of the Title IX External Review press briefing, click here.
For Immediate Release
Title IX external review released by the University of Alaska
FAIRBANKS – An external review of factors that led to breakdown in student discipline processes at University of Alaska Fairbanks’ [UAF], made public today, identified three primary causes for the failure: the discipline philosophy of the former UAF dean of students; an initial lack of understanding and response to 2011 Title IX guidance; and a lack of oversight by top UAF administrators as well as inadequate resources for Title IX and student discipline. The review, done by Anchorage attorney Jeff Feldman also documents that responses were appropriate and systemic change is underway.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents and President Jim Johnsen commissioned the external review last fall. University efforts to acknowledge and address these problems included Interim Chancellor Mike Powers’ disclosure that from 2011 to 2014, UAF failed to follow its own student discipline policies or Title IX guidance when dealing with sexual assaults on campus. Title IX is the Federal Law that guarantees gender equity in education and encompasses the proper handling of sexual assault complaints.
Feldman was asked to look at three issues: the root causes for the discipline breakdown; whether UA leadership (UAF, System, & Board) took appropriate action once the problem was discovered; and whether effective steps were taken to address the systemic or other failures that occurred.
Feldman’s review included in-depth interviews with 17 present and former staff and administrators who were responsible for Title IX compliance. Feldman also reviewed thousands of emails, documents, systems and procedures, including regent policies, case files and official guidance received from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
In examining the root causes, the review concluded there were multiple factors that led to the failures including: “the lack of an informed and capable staff for a period of time, insufficient allocation of resources to student discipline and Title IX compliance; a lack of oversight by UAF administration, a lack of early guidance and oversight at the statewide level; and, UAF’s tendency to handle matters internally.” Feldman concluded: “These were organizational – institutional and systemic – failures; but they were not the result of an intentional disregard of legal requirements.” Feldman also concluded that while there was some initial delay in addressing the mishandled cases, UA and UAF administration took effective action, including identifying the facts, evaluating deficiencies in procedures and the handling of particular cases, and pursuing corrective action.
More broadly, Feldman concluded that “[a]t the statewide level, the Board of Regents and President Johnsen have declared a firm commitment to Title IX compliance through words and action, and there is far greater statewide oversight and system-wide coordination regarding Title IX compliance.” At the campus level, Feldman found that UAF had implemented procedural, staffing and structural changes to meet Title IX requirements and prevent future lapses. “Equally important, UAF personnel described a fundamental change in culture that encompasses far greater awareness of Title IX obligations and a commitment to compliance.” Feldman said. Finally, the report warned of the need for continued emphasis on oversight and adequate resources.
“While profoundly disappointed when I learned about these failures, I am pleased that UAF has implemented a great number of improvements. I am especially thankful that Chancellor Mike Powers and his team confronted the problems in a very proactive and public way. He has involved the campus community to ensure change happens, which has had a remarkable effect, and the country, his community and his campus have noticed.”
Initiatives across the university system include appointing a statewide Title IX liaison; instituting a quarterly Title IX scorecard from all campuses that documents improvements to staffing, training, compliance and overall awareness; directing each campus to conduct a gap analysis of its processes and needs; initiating a climate survey system-wide; and, instituting a Title IX working group that reports directly to the chancellors.
However, Johnsen and the Feldman report both recognized there is still work to be accomplished in addressing the issues of sexual assault on campus that persist. The report specifically identified key areas of continued concern including the need to:
- Further amend Board of Regents policies related to employees to be consistent with Title IX guidance.
- Ensure adequate resources – both in terms of staffing and funding – at statewide and campus levels
- Ensure that the next UAF Chancellor understands the need to make Title IX compliance a priority.
- Ensure UAF evaluates the allocation of staffing and oversight given to student discipline.
- Address the UAF Dean of Students office to ensure it is not understaffed and evaluate the broad scope of responsibilities currently held by UAF administrators to make sure adequate oversight is provided.
Johnsen said that while cultural change can’t be accomplished overnight, significant changes have already occurred on our campuses. “Like many other colleges and universities across the country, some parts of the university were slow to recognize the broad implications of Title IX,” he said. “But we are doing the right thing, and taking responsibility when things go wrong. Of course there is more work to be done. We are making the necessary changes but we have to recognize it will be a process that will require ongoing training and vigilance with the absolute commitment to put our students’ safety at the top of our priorities.”
Whether or not cultural change succeeds at UA, he said, will be the true measure of accountability.
A link to the report can be found at www.alaska.edu
For more information call Roberta Graham, associate vice president of public affairs and federal relations at 907-360-2416 (cell).