LETTER: Sylvia Spears responds to “When ‘the best course of action’ isn’t enough”

Open Letter to the Beacon

I would like to express my appreciation to the Beacon and its editorial board for their interest in the hiring process for College’s Title IX investigator. As Vice President for Equity & Social Justice, the Office of Title IX Equity & Access reports directly to me. I agree with the editorial board that the Title IX investigatory function plays an essential role in our Title IX processes. That is precisely why it is critically important that anyone hired into that role bring depth of experience in conducting Title IX investigations or other civil rights investigations, has a background in working with students as well as other community members in a college or university setting, and, ideally, has training and expertise in trauma-informed investigations.  I, too, want this position to be filled as soon as possible, however, it is not in the best interest of our community to hire an individual who does not possess the requisite skills for the position. In fact, it could do harm to the individuals engaged in what is already an emotionally challenging process.

In addition, when a search process does not yield a strong applicant pool or result in a hire, it is standard practice to temporarily remove the posting so the position’s scope, salary, as well as our recruitment efforts can be examined to determine if there might be ways to enhance the strength of the applicant pool. This is the search committee’s rationale for temporarily removing the position posting. We are working collaboratively with Human Resources to examine what we might do to cultivate a stronger applicant pool. The position will be re-posted in the very near future.

I would also like to correct some inaccuracies in the Beacon article entitled, “Title IX office takes down job posting, position remains vacant” as well as in the Beacon’s editorial piece.  Your article indicates that the “lead investigator holds responsibility for handling all Title IX investigations at  the college…” The Title IX investigator has never been responsible for the investigation of ALL Title IX cases. In fact, that would be humanly impossible, given that a single investigation can require hundreds of hours of work to complete. In addition, there is often more than one case under investigation at any given time. Hence, the need to supplement the work of the Title IX Investigator with external investigators.

Since the college implemented the Title IX Investigator model, which moved responsibility for investigations from a deputy Title IX Coordinators to utilizing professional investigators, Title IX investigations have been conducted by both the internal investigator and external investigators who were  retained by the College. This practice has been in place since the inception of the Office of Title IX Equity & Access in 2015. The absence of an internal investigator has not impacted the assignment of cases to the investigators or the investigatory process. The external investigators who have been retained by the college are highly trained and seasoned investigators, some of whom were staffers in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

In addition, your editorial implies that an open Office of Civil Rights case is somehow related to the College’s vacant Title IX investigator position. There is no connection between these two processes.

The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights will complete its review of the college’s handling of previous cases on its own timeline.

I agree that it is important for the community to be updated on the status of key positions. However, the Berkeley Beacon is only one mechanism for communicating with the study body and the broader Emerson Community. Just last week, I met with the Student Government Association executive board to share a number of updates, including an update on the status of Title IX Investigator search. In addition, during my six years as a member of the Emerson Community, I have always made myself accessible to the Beacon reporters and its editors about a range of issues including matters related to Title IX.

Given that the highest priority of the Title IX Coordinator is to ensure that reports of violations of the College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy are addressed in as timely a manner as possible, I am to be available respond to any questions that community members, including Beacon staff, may have about the Title IX investigator position. Should the Beacon editors wish additional information about this search process, they may contact me directly.

Sincerely,

Sylvia C. Spears, Ph.D.

Vice President for Equity & Social Justice

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