In October, University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin sent out a mass email to students, faculty and staff explaining faculty and staff are mandatory reporters of any form of discrimination under new Title IX policies.
For many of these new mandatory reporters, their new responsibilities have caused some confusion and concern. An online training program was launched a few months after the initial announcement to try to help clear the air. But, the training has caused its own confusion and headaches as well.
All MU employees were supposed to have their Title IX and mandatory reporter training completed by January 31. Due to technical and access issues, though, the deadline has been extended until March 31. At the UM System Board of Curators meeting earlier this month, President Tim Wolfe apologized for the software issues.
He said, “We had some technical issues. We’ve apologized for that. I’ll apologize as well. In the essence of speed, we put out something that wasn’t ready for prime time. We have made the changes from a technology standpoint.”
He said 80 percent of UM employees have completed their training.
UM System spokesperson John Fougere said the UM System is striving to become a national model of how Title IX cases are handled. He said the technical issues have been addressed and additional support is available.
Fougere said an online program is the most convenient way for employees to receive the required training, and there aren’t currently any plans for other training methods.
He said, “This is extremely important topic and when we talk about sexual misconduct and the mandated reporter policy and it was very important for us to move as quickly and efficiently and conveniently for the staff as possible to get this training done. So if you’re talking about doing it face-to-face across four campuses and thousands, over 20,000, employees it would have been a much more daunting task, it would have been much more time consuming. We’re further along than we would be if we had done this on a face-to-face basis.”
On MU’s campus, some faculty and staff members are not pleased with the new mandated reporter policy.
Law professor Frank Bowman is one of them. He teaches criminal law and evidence. He does agree, though that it makes sense to try and train faculty and staff this way.
Bowman said, “If you’re trying to reach absolutely everyone in an institution this big, it’s hard to see how else you’d do it. So, you’ve got to be fair to the institution. They’re trying to make sure, on a very accelerated basis, that people hear about a really complicated set of new obligations that they have. So, I think online makes sense. Did I find this particular set of training videos, if you will, all that helpful? I learned a few things, some of them distressing. I’m not a big fan of the idea of mandatory reporting for practically everybody.”
Bowman’s list of dissatisfactions with the updated Title IX policy doesn’t end at the online training. He said Title IX is an important topic that many campuses are dealing with, but he also said he’s not sure it’s being handled in the right way.
He said, “Sexual assault, sexual harassment more broadly, discrimination of all kinds is a real social problem. And if affects people in horribly tragic ways. As we see in the case that’s driving so much of this, the Sasha Menu Courey case. If institutions don’t respond intelligently it can make the problem worse. The question is whether we’re going about it in the best way, in the most deliberate way.”
While Bowman credits the UM System for its quick release of Title IX policies, there’s one thing that piqued his interest. MU’s current Title IX polices do not allow the victim or the accused to have a speaker on their behalf during a contested hearing.
Bowman is interested in what happens once the informal resolution process fails and a hearing happens. As the rule currently stands, the involved parties are allowed to receive guidance from an advisor, but that advisor is only allowed to whisper or write suggestions, they cannot speak on behalf of their advisee.
Bowman said, “In a matter like this where the whole course of your future life is on the line, it’s simply unrealistic to expect that people are going to be able to speak adequately for themselves and not only just speak. But this is a highly specialized setting where you’re being asked to ask questions, if you want to, of the witnesses. These rules essentially prevent either party from having an advocate there who can perform that role.”
Bowman said even if a student victim doesn’t have a lawyer, they would be infinitely better off bringing a parent or a sexual assault councilor from on campus to the hearing rather than going into the hearing without some sort of advisor.
This issue was brought up at the Board of Curators February meeting. The board decided not to amend the current policy. Bowman hopes the board will approve his proposed amendment at future meeting.