Lack of trust in state college systems’ handling of Title IX cases voiced by students, faculty, and staff

Students and faculty at California’s three public higher education institutions lack confidence in how colleges and universities address sexual discrimination and harassment.

Last week, the California Assembly Higher Education Committee released a report detailing the lack of trust and offering recommendations on how the state’s public colleges and universities can improve their response to sexual harassment and discrimination. The report identified significant shortcomings in the handling of Title IX by the University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems. For instance, none of the state’s public colleges or universities assess the plans of campus leaders to address and prevent sex discrimination as part of their evaluations. Additionally, the community college system does not require student participation in annual sex discrimination prevention education programs.

The report underscores the skepticism and resentment felt by students, staff, and faculty across all three systems regarding how Title IX cases are handled. According to the report, “The prevailing message from students, staff and faculty is that current policies of the CCC, CSU, and UC do not protect survivors and instead are used to protect the institution from lawsuits.” Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, president of the Faculty Association of the California Community Colleges, emphasized the need for a shift from a reactive to a proactive approach and the creation of a culture of respect. Brill-Wynkoop also highlighted the importance of an oversight body, stating that “Every district tries to do things correctly, but without some sort of system check, it’s difficult.”

The report additionally identifies a lack of effective monitoring and regulation of Title IX standards in California’s higher education institutions.

Assembly Higher Education Chair Mike Fong emphasized the importance of reflecting diversity and inclusivity in all public higher education institutions. Fong stated that he would collaborate with lawmakers to introduce legislation based on the report’s recommendations. The report proposes several measures, including increasing funding for colleges to address sex discrimination, establishing a statewide office for guidance and monitoring, presenting annual compliance reports to the Legislature, and creating independent civil rights offices for each of the three systems. The committee also suggests providing more training and education, as well as holding campus leaders more accountable for addressing sexual harassment and discrimination.

The community colleges chancellor’s office spokesperson stated, “The Chancellor’s Office agrees with the findings and conclusions of this important report and looks forward to working with the committee, the Legislature, and our colleges to implement the recommendations. We are fully aligned with the commitment to improve California’s higher education systems to better address discrimination and provide safe, inclusive environments for all students, faculty, and staff.”

The Assembly Higher Education Committee initiated the report following national and statewide news coverage of mishandled Title IX cases. The report cites EdSource’s investigation into Chico State as an example, where a professor faced an inquiry for an inappropriate sexual affair with a graduate student. Another case investigated by USA Today involved the mishandling of a Title IX case by former CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro, leading to his resignation.

The report acknowledges that the Cal State system mishandled various cases over the past year. Independent investigations conducted by a law firm and the California State Auditor’s office exposed resource deficiencies and failures to fulfill Title IX responsibilities across the 23-campus system.

In response to the report, the Cal State chancellor’s office spokesperson declared, “Any form of discrimination, harassment, and misconduct is unacceptable. The CSU stands ready to work with legislators and with leaders from across the CSU system — including university administrators, staff, faculty, and students — to make the changes needed to improve our Title IX and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures.”

The report notes that the university system has already amended its policy permitting administrators who have committed misconduct to transition to faculty positions. CSU is currently implementing changes and reforms in line with the 2023 state audit and the recommendations of the independent law firm’s report.

The UC system spokesperson stated that they had made changes to address these issues promptly and vowed to thoroughly review the recommendations to uphold their commitment to an environment free from sex-based discrimination for all members of the UC community.

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