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NSHE inequities and misplaced protection

10 Oct 2023 9:37 AM | Jim New (Administrator)
Title IX graphic

Since its adoption in 1972, the landmark legislation known as Title IX has had a profound impact on the American educational system. It has played a pivotal role in leveling the playing field by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, and fostering opportunities for women in academics, sports, employment, and other aspects of education. Earlier this year, Nevada strengthened laws to address sexual misconduct and violence. Nevertheless, the laws regulating workplace discrimination and misconduct are only as good as the organizations administering them. Now, after more than five decades, serious deficiencies in NSHE’s implementation and enforcement of these laws may leave employees and students vulnerable to discrimination and violence, as well as retaliation for reporting misconduct. It also leaves the entire System of Higher Education liable for damages.

If you experience or witness power-based violence, sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or any other workplace conflict, we urge you to seek immediate guidance through your campus NFA chapter. NFA officers will provide the information you need to protect your rights and assist with conflict resolution. Our goal is to resolve disputes, when possible, before they escalate to costly lawsuits. NFA members have the additional benefit of access to legal defense support, depending on the merits of their case. Please make sure that you carefully document all of your interactions with individuals in positions of authority and keep records in a secure location off campus.

In December 2022, the State Board of the Nevada Faculty Alliance issued a letter of concern to the administration at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Nevada Board of Regents calling for immediate changes to the operation of the University’s Title IX Office following multiple reports of mismanagement. Neither UNR nor the Board of Regents responded to that letter.

Nearly one year later, with only superficial changes made, complaints of sexual abuse and harassment, discrimination, and retaliation have gone unresolved, resulting in multiple lawsuits and individuals seeking financial support from the public to avoid insolvency while pursuing redress. Students have picked up on this as well, covering it in the UNR student paper, launching a petition, and organizing protests. Worse still, instances of similar mismanagement are cropping up at other institutions. In one instance, a complaint filed by faculty members at UNLV went unanswered for seven months, potentially allowing the prohibited activity to continue unchecked. We have seen multiple instances of institutions retaliating against those making complaints by moving to terminate their employment.

As it appears that instances of misconduct and mishandling of these complaints continue unabated, the NFA State Board has issued a second letter to regents, the interim chancellor, and institution presidents, calling for immediate action.

NFA Seal

1983 - CELEBRATING 40 YEARS  - 2023

In December 2022, the State Board of the Nevada Faculty Alliance wrote a letter to UNR President Brian Sandoval expressing our concerns about the Title IX Office at the university but received no response. Now, multiple highly concerning lawsuits against UNR have come to light, drawing the attention of local media and UNR students alike. Active suits against NSHE institutions allege mishandling of various Title IX violations, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. The media attention further damages NSHE’s reputation and the ability of its institutions to recruit and retain talented faculty.

In addition to the cases at UNR, we have also been made aware of a case at UNLV that was delayed seven months before any action was taken. The case also alleges retaliation against the faculty member who filed the Title IX complaint. It now appears there is a pattern where NSHE institutions attempt to suppress these cases instead of taking appropriate action to protect all parties. Even worse, we have received reports of faculty being subjected to disciplinary action after filing a complaint.

The NFA urges Interim Chancellor Charlton and the Board of Regents to hold institutions accountable and correct these serious deficiencies in the operation of Title IX and equal opportunity offices. Our letter last year requested specific actions at UNR reiterated below. It is now apparent that these actions must be adopted across the entire system.

  • Provide reports to the community with essential information on how the Title IX and equal opportunity offices function. The University of Michigan’s report provides an outstanding model to follow.
  • Commission a qualified law firm that specializes in equal rights protections to conduct an audit of the Title IX offices and produce a public report with recommendations for improvement.
  • Establish public policies, in line with federal guidance, for which roles institutional administrators, general counsels, and HR managers can play in Title IX hearings and the functioning of the offices.
  • Make it a priority to fully staff the offices, including a sufficient number of investigators to handle caseloads in a timely manner.
  • Provide guidance on types of cases that should be referred to campus units other than the Title IX office and ensure that those units have the resources to handle the cases.
  • Implement policies that hold institutional administrators and other employees accountable for violating prohibitions on intervening in Title IX and other proceedings. Accountability should include denial of indemnification and immunity in cases of misconduct by administrators.

The 2023 Nevada Legislature passed, and Governor Lombardo signed, AB245, a bill brought forward by NSHE students to address sexual misconduct issues and to create the Task Force on Power-based Violence at Institutions of Higher Education. The previous NSHE Task Force on Sexual Misconduct failed to take significant proactive measures to improve the function of campus Title IX offices. We cannot afford for this new task force to repeat the same mistakes.

The State Board of the Nevada Faculty Alliance
Jim New, President and TMCC Chapter President
Shantal Marshall, Vice President
Cheryl Cardoza, Treasurer
Kent Ervin, Past President
Ted Chodock, CSN Chapter President
Pete Martini, NSU Chapter President
Doug Unger, UNLV Chapter President
Todd Ruecker, UNR Chapter President
Heather Reardon, WNC Chapter President

Recent lawsuits describe institutions with broken systems which allow interference that influences an outcome to the detriment of the complainant. Such actions not only enable prohibited behavior, they also dissuade vulnerable individuals from seeking lawful protections. Failing to adequately act on matters of discrimination and workplace misconduct emboldens those who cause harm to others. NFA officers consider it their duty to monitor and disclose failures of institutions to act on legitimate complaints.

It is essential for the Board to immediately review how NSHE code applies to campus administrators, especially executive officers, and establish rigorous checks and balances to prevent misconduct. Strict sanctions should also be established and applied to individuals who engage in misconduct or interference during the investigation of a complaint, including loss of retreat rights, denial of indemnification for costs, and termination for cause.

Unfortunately, NSHE leadership has exhibited an appalling level of indifference for our prior attempts to address this matter. We hope that will change. Until it does, however, we feel obligated to advise our colleagues to bypass the Title IX process at their institutions, and report misconduct directly to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

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