By seeking to prohibit sex-based discrimination in any school or educational program that received federal funds in support of its programs, Title IX is one of the most important pieces of legislation of the past 50 years.  But legislation is only as good as its implementation.  Without an expert in charge who understands both the nuances of the legislation and how to make the provisions fair and actionable, legislation is barely worth the paper it’s written on.  Any school or system that receives federal funding is required to designate at least one professional to oversee compliance with Title IX.  Additionally, the contact information for this individual must be open, apparent and easily accessible to all parties in interest.  Enter the role of the Title IX coordinator.    

The role of the Title IX Coordinator

What is the role?  In short, everything to do with Title IX.  The Title IX Coordinator is expected to be an expert on the actual provisions of Title IX including any changes or amendments as they are rolled out.  This means they must be knowledgeable about not only the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, but also applicable state and federal laws and regulations on similar issues which may include the ADA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, The Individuals with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other similar legislation.  They must understand what types of discrimination and misconduct are prohibited and against what groups of people.  They are responsible for responding to all complaints that fall under the purview of Title IX which may include structuring the grievance process, conducting investigations, doing witness and party interviews, assisting in formulating sanctions or other punishment, and helping to execute on the same.  They need to draft policies and procedures that fit within the legal parameters of Title IX including ones that act as preventative measures against illegal behavior.  And from a soft skills standpoint, Title IX Coordinators need to be empathetic sounding boards for all parties to the dispute, helping to usher fair and efficient resolutions while being cognizant of the emotional toll the process can exert.  

The parties to a Title IX dispute

Who are the parties?  It varies.  Title IX disputes may involve students, faculty, employees, any number of parties who are associated with the educational institution.  What this means for Title IX Coordinators is that they have to be experts in working across departments and organizations within their school.  That does not even account for the potential involvement of the General Counsel or other associated legal counsel, Human Resources, Student Affairs and any other department that may be associated with risk management.  More importantly, it means they need to be skilled in handling multiple types of personalities and bridging the gaps between those people to find appropriate middle ground.    

The grievance process

Title IX Coordinators may design the grievance process as they see fit.  However, the procedures must be disseminated publicly and be easily accessible.  They must provide the contact information for the Title IX Coordinator and their office.  The Title IX Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that the investigation and any associated mediation or hearing takes place in a timely and efficient manner and that deadlines are complied with.  Additionally, the Title IX Coordinator and their staff are expected to assist parties in filing grievances and to keep records of all grievances that are filed.  

Another responsibility of the Title IX Coordinator related to the grievance process is assigning neutral investigators, mediators and/or hearing officers to the dispute.  This is a difficult task for Title IX Coordinators because it is hard to define what constitutes “neutral.”  While the school may feel it has done a great job of ensuring neutrality in its selections, a student may still feel there is inherent bias and non-neutrality simply because the investigator/mediator/hearing officer is employed by the school.  This is not an easy line to walk.  

Advising and compliance

As mentioned above, Title IX Coordinators are not only responsible for accepting and actioning Title IX complaints.  There is also a substantial advice and compliance aspect to the job.  Title IX Coordinators are expected to do annual surveys to review the school environment and then to present reports and recommendations based on the same.  They also need to review the complaints from the prior year to make sure they were handled in compliance with Title IX’s mandates.  The policies and procedures need to be reviewed annually to conform to any changes or amendments and for quality assurance review.  All the while, the Title IX Coordinator is also responsible for communicating all this information to the various constituents within the school, such as the President, Provost and Dean(s) so they are well informed.    

It’s easy to be overwhelmed

Is your head spinning yet?  The role of a Title IX Coordinator is demanding and resources can be slim.  Making matters worse, there are instances where being the Title IX Coordinator is only a portion of the person’s job.  They may have other full-time responsibilities in addition to managing Title IX compliance.  Put in a difficult position, Title IX Coordinators work hard to balance their responsibilities under the law while maintaining empathy for parties involved.  

At New Era ADR, we are hoping our digital platform and Title IX trained neutrals can assist Title IX Coordinators in freeing up some bandwidth and reducing their workload to make their jobs more manageable and, hopefully, more enjoyable all around.  They deserve it. 

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