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College considers hiring outside investigator for Title IX cases

Maddi O’Neill

Editor-in-Chief

Administrators are considering hiring an external investigator to conduct fact-finding in Title IX violation cases, including sexual assault. The investigator, if hired, would be shared among the “Ohio Five” schools, including Denison University, Kenyon College, Ohio Wesleyan University and possibly Oberlin College.

The investigator would be “an experienced Title IX professional who could conduct and coordinate investigations, provide annual training for key campus personnel, and monitor legal developments that might affect processes and procedures,” according to a Statement of Need produced by representatives from the “Ohio Five” schools, who met last week to discuss the possibility of a shared investigator.

The representatives from Wooster included Chief of Staff and Secretary of the College Angela Johnston, Senior Associate Dean of Students Carolyn Buxton, Director of Security and Protective Services Steve Glick and Dean of Students Kurt Holmes.

Johnston explained that the move to an external investigator would “provide the benefit of having a person who can completely dedicate themselves to conducting a thorough and timely investigative process of fact-finding.” The investigator would need legal expertise in Title IX to ensure that he or she is prepared to conduct investigations and produce reports on possible violations.

The College’s current process, according to Johnston, requires intensive involvement by a number of Wooster employees, all of whom must split their time with their other responsibilities to devote themselves to an investigation of a Title IX violation.

Adding an external investigator would allow administrators to focus their efforts on providing help to those involved in the case.

With an investigator, College employees “could dedicate more of their attention and time to remediating the effects of these cases and tending to the well-being of all of the individuals involved,” said Johnston.

Each of the “Ohio Five” schools will have to decide on their level of involvement by April — some may choose to ask the investigator to help with Title IX trainings, while others may simply ask for assistance with investigations.

“We’re in a process of looking at that possibility,” said Holmes of hiring an investigator. “We don’t yet know what that would look like or how much that would cost.”

The idea for a shared investigator came from Lawrence University, a fellow member of the Great Lakes Colleges Association that has successfully used an external investigator for nearly 20 years.

Nancy Truesdell, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Lawrence University, explained that having an investigator with specialized Title IX training had successfully reduced the number of appeals Lawrence received after deciding sexual assault cases.

“All of the kinds of things we hear about [at other schools], particularly with appeals, have to do with the dual roles of investigators,” she said. “We avoid any of the bias.” In other words, many schools without an external investigator use campus officials to investigate sexual assault cases; on small campuses where administrators and students know and interact with each other, this can lead to charges of bias after the case concludes.

“We always face the dilemma that a student comes in and makes a complaint, and somebody knows them from class or somewhere else around campus, and that introduces the possibility of bias into the system,” said Holmes.

The use of an external investigator, who presents a final report to all involved parties after the investigation, preempts this problem and also adds clout to the result.

“I think when both parties are able to see a professionally completed investigative report of fact-finding in front of them, there is a discussion with each about whether or not there is a preponderance of evidence to indicate that there has been a violation of College policy, they both will be more accepting of the outcome,” said Johnston.

Once an investigator is hired, the College will consider new ways to resolve sexual assault and other Title IX cases.

“Having an investigative fact-finding report completed by a professional investigator may allow us to move away from hearings by a panel to an administrative resolution process that is more sensitive to the parties involved and more private,” said Johnston. Johnston expects that a legal firm and specific investigator will be selected by Aug. 15.

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