Apr 142017

I have decided to give this website a long overdue makeover, as I have been wanting to simplify the professional site a bit, and I have been desiring to create a personal site attached to this address as well. It’s going to take a few weeks to complete, but the basic outline is done and now I am just trying to redesign the pages that will be maintained moving forward. As the name of this post suggests, I am taking this opportunity to “re-set” this blog. I am only going to maintain a small selection of past writings, and most related to Title IX and/or social justice. Moving forward, I will be writing periodic pieces on Title IX, as well as social justice, and conflict resolution.

A couple of quick updates for readers:

  1. As many readers know, I am over a year into my new role as the Director of Title IX Compliance for The Texas A&M University System, based in College Station. It is a position I am enjoying tremendously, as I get to work with people from eleven different universities, seven state agencies, a health science center, and a law school, comprising over 140,000 students and over 30,000 employees. In addition to serving as a technical consultant and reviewer of written materials, I also have the opportunity to develop and present training programs to a wide variety of people across our system. Because this is a new position, I have the opportunity to truly create something in the A&M System, and am appreciative every day of the uniqueness of this opportunity. 
  2. I am currently working with members of NCHERM-CR to develop a next generation of materials on conflict resolution, mediation, conflict coaching, and restorative justice. It’s premature to share too many details at this time, but I am very excited about the direction of the project, and have had my enthusiasm for this effort renewed by some dear friends and colleagues. There will be more to come on this, but a long awaited improvement on the previous training materials is making progress.

There will be much more news to share in the months ahead, as I am engaged in several different projects. So please keep checking back.

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Sep 092014

Ray Rice videoAs a student affairs practitioner, it has occurred to me this week watching the Ray Rice fiasco unfold that, in most university settings, things would be handled drastically differently. Unfortunately I do have to use the word “most” as a modifier here, because there are still a number of large Division One FBS programs conducting themselves more like the Ravens and the NFL, despite the federal government’s direction and justified intrusion into these matters. So with that modifier in place, in most cases Mr. Rice would be charged with physical abuse (in this case a Title IX offense) and be subjected to a thorough investigation and adjudication process. Mr. Rice’s due process would be protected, and there would also be a thorough investigation… not the shoddy and incomplete investigation conducted by the National Football League. And, simply based on the video evidence that I have seen with my own eyes, I am presuming that Mr. Rice would be found in violation of university policies. The sanctioning phase would consider the nature of his offense, his prior history, institutional precedence, and other factors. Based solely on the nature of the offense, in my professional judgment I think it is safe to say that Mr. Rice would be expelled from school.

Beyond just addressing Mr. Rice’s behavior in proportion to his offense, the sanction would have the added benefit of being consistent with sanctions for other offenses. At most institutions, we don’t throw students out of school for a semester for a first drug violation, nor do we typically allow those who serve time for vehicular manslaughter and other crimes to immediately return to a campus environment without great assurance that the guilty party no longer presents a threat to other members of the community.

If only life in the NFL came close to these standards. Continue reading »

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Apr 292014

us-whitehouse-logoAs the media is widely reporting this morning, the White House has issued its anticipated report on campus sexual assault. Entitled, “Not Alone”, the 20 page report addresses the need for campus climate surveys, engaging men in the prevention of sexual assault, developing effective responses when an assault is reported, and improving transparency and enforcement. For convenience, I have linked the report here.

Just as importantly, the Office for Civil Rights has also released its long awaited set of guidelines in response to many questions raised in the wake of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. This is a far more fascinating read, as many practical questions directed to OCR during the past three years have received either mixed answers, or resulted only in verbal guidance. This 46 page document (linked here) addresses very practical and immediate questions on school obligations to respond, students protected by Title IX, procedural requirements, responsible employees and reporting, confidentiality, investigations and hearings, interim measures, remedies and notice of outcome, appeals, and several other topics.

Obviously, many of us will now spend weeks scouring these documents to look for ways to make improvements to our processes. The reports come in the wake of Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s issuance of a survey to 350 college and university presidents to determine how schools handle rapes and sexual assault on campus. McCaskill indicated she is focusing in particular on how those crimes are reported and investigated and how students are notified about the services available to them.

I have only given each document one reading so far, but my initial reaction is that both documents can be of great value to colleges and universities. In particular, I was glad to see a number of very specific situations addressed in the OCR guidelines, and expect OCR’s many concrete answers to be of value to policy makers and practitioners alike. I will post with more details once I have read them again and can spare some writing time.

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Feb 212014

White HouseAs has been well publicized, President Barack Obama recently established a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The overarching goals of this group, by order of the President, are:

(i) providing examples of instructions, policies, and protocols for institutions, including: rape and sexual assault policies; prevention programs; crisis intervention and advocacy services; complaint and grievance procedures; investigation protocols; adjudicatory procedures; disciplinary sanctions; and training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty;

(ii) measuring the success of prevention and response efforts at institutions, whether through compliance with individual policies or through broader assessments of campus climate, attitudes and safety, and providing the public with this information;

Continue reading »

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Feb 202014

FirePart Two: Deceitful Hysteria Continues Around Campus Sexual Assault

I am going to begin part two of this article with a personal disclosure. My politics are that of a liberal libertarian, where I believe in social safety nets, I oppose unfair income divides that are rooted in social injustice and corporate welfare, and I believe strongly in personal privacy, being of the opinion that government has no business in the bedrooms of its citizens or taking away choices involving the human body, most notably in the area of reproductive rights. I also believe in science over creationism, believe that climate change is real and strongly influenced by human activity, and believe most fiercely in the separation of church and state. By basis of comparison, my politics are very similar to those of Mahatma Gandhi, Noam Chomsky, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. Yep, I’m a lefty.

I say this not to promote my personal point of view, but instead to be genuine and transparent about the lens through which I view the world. Further, I respect that other people view the world differently and I do not claim that other views are inferior, no matter how much I believe in my own perspective. However, the basis for this respect rests on a respectful articulation of one’s point of view, and utilizing objective and demonstrable facts, rather than altering facts to meet one’s point of view. At the very least, people making arguments who are simply relying on their opinion should be clear that they are speaking an opinion, as opposed to articulating that opinion as ultimate truth. As a former conservative (believe it or not), I can actually understand the views of reasonable people on the right, and in some cases can either empathize or even agree with people who hold a more conservative perspective.

The Connection between FIRE and the Right Wing Media

So how did an article on Title IX morph into politics? In my view, FIRE has opened this door by virtue of the company it keeps.

In just the past three months, six pieces citing FIRE have made their way into publication at the Wall Street Journal, taking FIRE’s position as gospel that American colleges and universities have run amuck in depriving students of their free speech rights. It’s worse on Fox, where no less than 90 stories dating back to 2001 can be found of their website. By comparison, searches for FIRE on CNN and MSNBC find no current archive of stories explicitly involving FIRE. Similarly, the three major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) maintain a total of twelve stories involving FIRE over the entirety of the organization’s fifteen year existence.

Continue reading »

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Feb 182014

FireLet’s start this article with an axiom.

Student conduct practitioners and student conduct boards are not asked, nor are they qualified, to determine if a student’s alleged actions constitute a crime as defined by federal, state, or local law. Further, student conduct practitioners and student conduct boards are not empowered to deprive a student of the rights of life, liberty, and property as defined in the Constitution of the United States of America or any of its Amendments.

When one understands and recognizes this basic starting point for a conversation involving college and university student conduct processes, it becomes difficult to understand the continued assault on these processes by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), or by FIRE’s mouthpieces at the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Or at least it would be difficult to understand, if FIRE and their allies were using actual logic supported by evidence. Of course they are not.

The truth is that FIRE has been far more about hysteria than fact all along, and the purpose of this two part article will be to deconstruct some of the “logic” being applied by FIRE, the WSJ, and by Fox News, and to offer my own opinion on what is really driving the current irrational assault on student conduct processes, as well as to offer guidance on responding to FIRE’s recent push to include attorneys in campus conduct proceedings.

Continue reading »

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Aug 252013

I had been wanting to get back to blogging this week in the midst of working on several projects, but I wasn’t too motivated to make it a priority until I caught this little gem in the news. This comes to us from our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

This week North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill granting public university students in the state facing non-academic disciplinary charges the right to an attorney. The law, which is the first of its kind nationwide, ensures that students attending the state’s public colleges and universities possess rights similar to those already enjoyed by North Carolina’s K–12 students under state law. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) worked with a bipartisan group of state legislators to enact the protection into law.

“Students across America are regularly tried in campus courts for serious offenses like theft, harassment, and even rape. Being labeled a felon and kicked out by your college carries serious, life-altering consequences. Because the stakes are so high, students should have the benefit of an attorney to ensure the hearing is conducted fairly and by the rules,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. “We are immensely gratified that the legislature and governor of North Carolina have taken this critical step in giving students a fair chance for justice.”

Since I don’t personally know Robert Shibley, I will withhold any opinions I may have have formed about him by virtue of reading this story. And I would call Mr. Shibley’s comments uninformed, but I highly doubt that Mr. Shibley is uninformed. Therefore, I can only surmise that Mr. Shibley’s comments are intentionally deceptive, and that he has pulled a fast one on state politicians in North Carolina. Given some of the other interesting pieces of legislation that have come out of the Tar Heel state (see the recent pieces of legislation on voting restrictions [worst voter suppression law in the nation], ending Sharia law [talk about a solution without a problem], and allowing the concealed carry of weapons in bars [because that couldn’t possibly go wrong]), I can’t claim that it is hard to mislead that state’s politicians, especially when they seem to want to be misled. So let me take a moment, albeit after the fact, to offer a lesson in higher education and the law, that legislators in North Carolina either missed, ignored, or were deprived of.

Continue reading »

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Nov 092011

Here is a very kind article written by Eric Jome that was written for “Identity,” which is Illinois State University’s online newsletter for diversity issues. The original article can be found here.

Dean of Students staff members receive cultural competence training

You can claim you have no pre-conceived notions about others, but that is simply not true. Somewhere, on some level, everyone has biases and prejudices. You may not always be conscious of them, but they certainly influence how you interact and communicate with others. It can be a sobering experience to realize this about yourself. It can also be a daunting, but ultimately liberating, experience to face those biases and move beyond them.

Facing up to personal bias and prejudice has been a cornerstone of cultural competence training programs for staff members in the Dean of Students Office. The ongoing training, organized by the unit’s 10-member Cultural Competence Committee, has helped A/P and Civil Service staff members and graduate assistants to confront and identify biases and find ways to move beyond them in order to better communicate with students and other campus constituencies. Associate Dean of Students Rick Olshak chairs the Cultural Competence Committee and feels that the overall mission of the Dean of Students Office has been greatly enhanced, and that staff members have benefitted from the training, both personally and professionally.

“A lot of us will say ‘I’m not prejudiced, I treat everyone equally,'” said Olshak. “The truth is we do have biases, and they cause us to treat some people differently. The ultimate purpose of the training is to move us beyond simply acknowledging and appreciating diversity and help us achieve a true level of understanding about others that allows us to be more open in our communications. The training sessions have been very empowering for staff members.”

Continue reading »

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May 172011

From Rick:

First, I want to thank all of the people who either left comments on my last entry or who took the time to write me kind words. “OCR versus the One-Trick Pony” and my other DCL entries generated a lot more traffic and feedback than I expected, further reinforcing my belief that educators see this as a very important discussion.

Beyond the DCL letter being an important point of discussion, it is also becoming clear that FIRE is being exposed as an organization with a political agenda and as an organization that is either unable or unwilling to take a reasoned position in order to promote collegial discourse. There is nothing collegial about FIRE, and their alarmist hyperbole about grand conspiracies that lack evidence reveals their true nature. Last week’s continued assault on the preponderance test is an excellent example of projecting hysteria over facts, and served as fodder for a close friend and colleague, Dan Kast, to write a response which will appear in detail in an article in the Summer 2011 issue of the Journal of Campus Safety & Student Development. I have had an opportunity to preview it and promise that people will not be disappointed with Dan’s reasoned but pointed response.

Like myself, Dan also had some strong reactions to FIRE’s hyperbole and took specific aim at a separate article written by Samantha Harris, FIRE’s Director of Speech Code Research. I won’t talk much about Dan’s response, since he has been kind enough to forward it to me to share via this blog. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed this piece immensely, and once again find Dan’s logic to be solid and his argument pointed. Enjoy the read!

Continue reading »

May 132011


In a few bright, shining moments FIRE has been the champion of those who both deserved and needed it, and that is not a bad thing. But the continued vilification of higher education as a collective is unwelcome, unfounded, and wholly unnecessary.

I wasn’t planning to have any one particular topic dominate this blog for any period of time, but it looks like the OCR Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) is doing just that, and for good reason. Although I don’t know anyone who works at OCR, I can only imagine that they would be thrilled to know that the conversation within the profession regarding the DCL is raging fast and furious on the profession’s leading listserv among student conduct practitioners. As a member of the Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA), I have been a member of this list for many years (even running the group for a significant stretch of time) and I have been closely following the conversations of my colleagues.

Background and initial reactions

My overall impression is that most practitioners that I have encountered understand that there is not a consistently level playing field for aggrieved parties (otherwise known as “victims”) in sexual misconduct cases, and therefore support the stance taken by OCR. But there are those who believe that OCR is advocating too strongly for these people, and that it is somehow a zero-sum game that means that the rights of accused students are being violated or abridged in order to create a responsive environment for the aggrieved party. My response has been very simple; we have at least fifty years of case law (dating back to Dixon v. Alabama, 1961) which has instructed colleges and universities on how to manage conduct processes and protect the rights of the accused student. But with the exception of a few forward-thinking programs, those same rights are rarely granted to the person bringing the complaint in sexual misconduct cases. While many institutions across the United States have done their best to accommodate aggrieved parties, other institutions have not, and a culture has been created for many aggrieved parties (the overwhelming majority of whom are women) where reporting, investigating, and bringing these cases through our conduct processes has not been a priority. In 2010 this culminated in the publication of an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, where a review of many campus conduct processes entitled, “Sexual Assault on Campus: A frustrating search for justice” was very critical of numerous conduct systems who failed to adequately address these cases. According to the CPI website, “The Center interviewed 50 experts familiar with the college disciplinary process — student affairs administrators, conduct hearing officers, assault services directors, and victim advocates. The inquiry included a review of records in select cases, and examinations of 10 years’ worth of complaints filed against institutions with the Education Department under Title IX and the Clery Act, as well as a survey of 152 crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses. The Center also interviewed 33 women who reported being sexually assaulted by other students.” Continue reading »