Amid recent staff departures, the University of Maryland’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct brought on two new staffers Monday, university general counsel Mike Poterala said.
Tamara Saunders will act as the special assistant to office directors — performing intakes and deputy director duties — and Natacha Thys will act as an investigator, university spokesperson Natifia Mullings wrote in an email.
“I guess we could call it a temporary position, but they’re really expected to work indefinitely at this point as we work to get the director position posted and filled and hopefully give that person the opportunity to fill as many positions as are open on a permanent basis once they’re here,” Poterala said.
Catherine Carroll resigned as the center’s director in August, and deputy director Leslie Annexstein said at the end of the month that she and two other staffers, an investigator and the office’s intake specialist, would leave by the beginning of October. Carroll will be working in Fairfax County Public Schools, and Annexstein is leaving to become Howard University’s Title IX Director.
In 2016, about two years after the office was created, Carroll spoke out about being “under-resourced” and “under-staffed,” which she said contributed to lengthened investigations and an inability to keep up with the demand for services.
During the 2016-17 academic year, the office received 208 reports of potential sexual misconduct, and the average investigation took 90 business days to be completed — 30 days better than the previous academic year’s average of 120, but 30 days past Obama-era requirements. In 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos changed federal requirements for these investigations to be “reasonably prompt.”
“The resources we’ve put in place so far, in the short term, I think will be adequate to continue that office functioning at a high level,” Poterala said. “We will continually monitor that situation, and if we need to take other steps, if it needs additional resources or capacity, we’ll deal with that at that time.”
The director position could get posted as soon as this week, Poterala said. They could post about another investigator position as well, because “there was a search underway that wasn’t successfully concluded for another investigator,” he said.
Otherwise, the office would hope to hold off on “further permanent searches” until the permanent director is hired so that “he or she then can direct them,” he added.
“We are fully committed to making sure that these important functions are handled professionally and expeditiously,” Poterala said.