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Group concludes state universities are falling behind in Title IX investigations, need more money for staff

A year ago — inspired in part by one state university filing a court brief against another in a Title IX-related lawsuit — the Kansas Board of Regents ordered a work group to create more uniformity in the way schools address Title IX.

The work group, made of Title IX officers from the University of Kansas and the five other state universities, presented its report to the board this month, during the board’s regular meeting in Topeka.

A key conclusion from the Title IX work group report: All of Kansas’ state universities have seen a “sharp increase” in Title IX complaints but, because they lack adequate staff, are failing to consistently complete formal investigations in the 60-day time frame recommended by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The report also included a recommendation for addressing that problem: Schools should assess a fee for “student safety efforts,” revenue from which could help pay for additional Title IX staff, student bystander education and awareness efforts.

It remains to be seen whether university students will pay an additional fee for this purpose. The board took no action on the matter last week. The Title IX work group also asked to continue meeting quarterly and have a once-a-year audience with the board to discuss Title IX compliance and challenges.

Board chair Zoe Newton, of Sedan, an attorney, said — without citing a specific case — she has been concerned about “the non-uniform nature” of due process for respondents in universities’ quasi-judicial proceedings.

“I hope that going forward the working group will start to take a look at some of those due process issues,” Newton said.

In response KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who presented the report, reiterated the overarching purpose of Title IX. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, including sexual harassment and sexual violence.

“One of the points of this is to provide equal access to educational opportunities, and that is true for everyone that is involved in this process,” Gray-Little said. “We take that very seriously.”

While changes to Title IX compliance and enforcement under the Trump administration are anticipated, the work group report noted, right now there’s no clear timeline or understanding of what changes might happen.

One thing the Title IX work group report did not specifically address is the inconsistency that sparked the group in the first place: jurisdiction, i.e., whether under Title IX a university can investigate and discipline a student for actions that occurred off campus.

That’s been a key issue in Title IX lawsuits against both KU and Kansas State University — KU has been sued because it did discipline a student for off-campus actions, and K-State has been sued because it didn’t. For a previous post about the KU case (and K-State’s opposing brief), click here. For more about the lawsuit against K-State, click here and here.


— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at sshepherd@ljworld.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.

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