By: Eileen Filliben Edmunds, JD/MBA, Managing Partner, ModernThink LLC
1) Title IX is not just about students. It applies to faculty, staff and administrators, too, whether they are the alleged victims or perpetrators. HR needs to be as vigilant about Title IX as it is about other employee rights and responsibilities. While nearly all of the recent Title IX focus has been on student-on-student misconduct, the law starts with the words “No person”, not “No student.” Title IX prohibits employment discrimination, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct. Faculty, administrators, staff and students all benefit from its protections and are all held accountable to its standards. HR needs to ensure that all employee policies, practices, systems and trainings are compliant and up-to-date.
2) Patterns of Title IX violations are often symptoms of a broken culture. As the guardian of the culture, HR plays an essential role in continually assessing and cultivating its health. Culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. At institutions where there seem to be more persistent Title IX problems, there’s often a failure chain in play, meaning that multiple, interdisciplinary failures are occurring, and/or checks and balances are either not in place or not working. HR can play a vital leadership role in ending the failure chain. An important proactive step is assessing cultural health through a climate survey. Only then will you have the data you need to make the process and/or cultural improvements that are needed most. Only then will you have the best chances of extinguishing any smoke before it becomes fire. See #4 below.
3) Reputation damage can be devastating, especially to recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students. Proactive HR practices can help mitigate the harm. We’ve all seen too many recent examples of schools getting black eyes in the headlines related to alleged Title IX transgressions. The ramifications can be swift, harsh and far-reaching, especially if the institution is perceived to be non-responsive. Boards demand answers. Alumni threaten to withhold donations and/or call for changes to the administration. Faculty, administrator and staff job applications go down and/or top candidates ask even more challenging questions. Student enrollment suffers. The OCR opens an investigation. Preemptive HR practices can help identify and lessen these threats before they happen. See #4 below.
4) Strategic-thinking HR professionals anticipate and reduce risks, including those associated with Title IX. While senior administrators are likely aware at a high level of an institution’s responsibilities to all employees under Title VII, many fewer understand the overlapping requirements of Title IX. Therefore, strategic HR partners have a critical role in educating senior administrators and others about the reach of the law and the dangers of noncompliance. HR professionals should also conduct an internal audit to ensure that all policies, practices and procedures are up-to-date regarding Title IX as it relates to employees. By way of example, in light of additional federal guidance, many colleges and universities have recently reviewed their student grievance, complaint and/or disciplinary procedures to ensure compliance with Title IX. That same exercise should be done for employee grievance, complaint and disciplinary procedures. In addition, it’s important for HR to ensure that training keeps pace with all needs and requirements, including those under Title IX. HR should also survey regularly to understand the current “state of the union” and identify and rectify issues before they become risks to the institution.
5) Even putting their own Title IX rights aside, faculty and staff care deeply about students. When things go wrong, HR can have an important role in resolving stand-offs and repairing relationships and processes. So many college and university employees go out of their way to build lasting bonds with students. Faculty often has the most direct contact. If a student is harmed or worse yet, there appears to be a pattern of ongoing harm, a deep divide can be created not only between the administration and students but also between the administration and faculty and even the administration and alumni. HR can have a critical role building bridges, facilitating communication and making meaningful improvements.
To learn more, please sign up for HERC’s upcoming webinar Gender Discrimination & Sexual Misconduct on Campus: Understand Your Climate & Protect Faculty, Staff & Students on Thursday, May 28th at 10 PT/11 MT/12 CT/1 ET. Click here to register.
To stay posted about a Fall 2015 Title IX survey collaboration between HERC and ModernThink, please visit here and enter your name and contact information under “Stay Informed With Program Updates”.