Saturday, August 15, 2020
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New U.Md. fee could help fund sex assault probes

The University of Maryland student government approved a new student fee of $34 that could improve programs in the university’s Title IX office, Inside Higher Ed reports.

University of Maryland, College Park

Although the university hasn’t approved the fee yet, a spokeswoman said, “We are supportive of the Student Government Association’s proposal, which, if approved, will supplement the existing budget and is a show of support for the important mission of the Title IX office.”

The work of a university’s Title IX office involves investigating accusations of sexual assault, developing programs that increase awareness of sexual assault around campus, and working to eliminate discrimination against not only women but minorities as well. Its very existence is mandated under federal law, and any reliance on student fee payments for the work of this office isn’t how such offices are typically funded.

It would be like asking the parents of fourth graders to pay a fee so their sons and daughters can take the PARCC test that’s required under federal law. Not only does such a fee create an additional, albeit tiny, financial burden on students, who are already strapped with a huge amount of debt by the time they graduate, but it also opens up debate about whether such operations should be supported by separate fees. Title IX is important, for sure, but so are many, many other federally mandated operations of a university. Where would we draw the line?

On the other hand, university students pay lots of fees for services that aren’t specifically earmarked; maybe earmarking this money is a good idea, just to make sure the Title IX office is the one and only recipient of each student’s $34.

That would be just fine with Catherine Carroll, the university’s Title IX director.

She told the SGA last month that the office didn’t have enough money to carry out its true calling but remained compliant with federal law. The office received, she said, 148 sexual assault complaints last year. Three sexual assault investigators conducted 112 investigations based on those complaints. A fourth investigator looks into claims of discrimination.

For investigations that the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights expects to be completed within 60 days, University of Maryland students typically have to wait up to 140 days before the investigations are complete, she said. “When people are experiencing crisis and trauma, the last thing you need is to drag it out,” Inside Higher Ed quoted her as saying.

The current budget is about $1 million, which has increased every year since 2014, when the office opened. The proposed fee would add about $900,000 to that budget and allow the office to hire additional investigators and a manager for sexual assault prevention programming, which, Ms Carroll says, is also in strict compliance with federal law but inadequate.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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