Editor’s note: Last week, we erroneously published in this article that the Office of Equity and Inclusion didn’t respond when asked to comment. This was a miscommunication as they were unable to speak with us before the publication of the article. To best understand this story, the Campus Times recommends reading both articles.
In an interview with Campus Times, the Office of Equity and Inclusion Vice President Mercedes Ramírez Fernández and Assistant Vice President for Public Relations and Engagement Jim Ver Steeg commented on the Title IX budget and the GME system — two reasons that previous Title IX Coordinator Morgan Levy cited as to why she resigned.
Regarding the Title IX budget, Ver Steeg said that while COVID-19 led to budget cuts for nearly all University departments — including the Office of Equity and Inclusion — the Title IX Office didn’t face any cuts; instead, the budget was centralized.
“There was never any budget cut [for Title IX],” Ver Steeg said. “It was just a completely administrative change that was […] follow[ing] the mandate from the President’s Office that we centralize our budget system, and maintain a really careful and cautious look at what we’re spending.” Fernandez added that there was and is “no redistribution of the funds of Title IX for any other purposes in the Office of Equity and Inclusion.”
Both Ver Steeg and Ramírez Fernández also explained that Levy had access to all the necessary information in the GME system — the database that holds all Policy 106 and bias-related incidents. She did not have access to the system itself, which contains “bias-related incident reports across the spectrum of whatever the complaint could be.”
“When the new regulations for Title IX were put in place, it made it pretty clear that faculty and staff would be considered […] part of the Title IX complaints,” Ver Steeg said. To protect privacy and confidentiality, the Policy 106 director shared the relevant cases (which were sex-based) that fell under Levy’s scope, but withheld access to the entire system from Levy.
This decision to “create boundaries” was made by “following the advice from [UR’s legal counsel],” according to Fernández.
“There were a number of conversations that were held regarding full access […] to complaints across all protected classes, and so we received […] writing from our legal partners of how to create boundaries in that particular area,” Fernández said. “I, as the Vice President, don’t have access to it. I do not read the reports and again, I take that as a very serious matter […] to protect […] confidentiality.”
In July 2019, Fernández said the University developed plans to identify and work towards priorities for the Office of Equity and Inclusion. One of these priorities was cultivating and sustaining a “safe, accessible” climate for members of the UR community, including working on “equity through compliance,” which brought Title IX under the Office of Equity and Inclusion.
“The work of equity through compliance […] has been one of the priorities of the Office […] since day one,” Fernández said. “This has been, you know, one of the areas that we really wanted to provide the infrastructure […] because we didn’t have that.”
To make sure “we have good resources necessary to do the work,” Fernández said the University had hired two additional EO (Equal Opportunity) investigators. These investigators, according to Fernández, had worked on a weekly basis with the Title IX staff, the EO staff, and the University’s legal partners “from May through August” to comply with the new Title IX regulations.
“We would […] like to emphasize that matters of Title IX are of the highest priority for President Mangelsdorf, and for me, and for everyone in the Office of Equity and Inclusion,” Fernández said.
Though a replacement for Levy hasn’t been found yet, Ver Steeg said a nationwide search immediately began after Levy’s resignation and is still happening to fill up Levy’s position. Director of Equal Opportunity Investigations Rachel Koelgel was appointed as the Interim Title IX Coordinator.
At the time of publication, the University has found five other promising candidates to be UR’s new Title IX Coordinator.
As a final note, Ver Steeg said that one of the biggest things to show the support towards UR’s mission of Equity and Inclusion “has been this centralization that a lot of separate efforts across the University [and] big picture things that fit into [the] University’s true commitment” to improving that mission.