As the fall semester nears, UMD’s Title IX office still has five vacancies

Outside of the University of Maryland's Title IX Office. (Elliot Scarangello/The Diamondback)

After a tumultuous year for the University of Maryland’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, officials are looking to fill five vacancies.

The office, which investigates complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination, is missing three investigators, an intake specialist and an administrative coordinator, according to a statement from office director Grace Karmiol sent by university spokesperson Natifia Mullings.

Mullings declined to comment on whether any of those positions would be filled by the time school starts later this month.

The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct continues to serve the campus community and … is employing staffing solutions,” the statement read.  

The office recently hired a senior equal employment opportunity investigator, according to the statement. There are current job postings for a senior Title IX investigator and an administrative coordinator, and the search for two junior investigators and an assessment and intake coordinator will begin soon, Karmiol said.

The University Health Center has also appointed two interims to lead the CARE to Stop Violence office, a key resource for students affected by sexual assault, dating or domestic violence. Interviews for the full-time assistant director position were scheduled to begin in July, according to a statement from UHC director David McBride sent by Mullings. The statement says the office added a part-time advocate to the team in the meantime.

Tumult at OCRSM began when director Catherine Carroll, who’d been outspoken about a shortage of resources for her team back in 2016, left her post last August. Shortly thereafter, the office’s deputy director, intake specialist and one of its investigators headed out the door.

After six months of interim leadership, the office got a new director in February. While that search was underway, the university brought on two new staffers, one who fulfilled the role of both an intake specialist and a deputy director, and another who served as an investigator. Officials said the search for further permanent staffers would hopefully wait until after a full-time director was appointed.

The two new staffers, who university general counsel Mike Poterala said could be considered “temporary” when they were brought on in September, remain at OCRSM, Mullings said.

“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 at the time of their hiring.

[Read more: UMD investigated far fewer sexual misconduct complaints last year, despite a spike in reports]

The five vacancies paint something of a troubling picture for sexual misconduct assistance services at the university, said Ireland Lesley, president of the university’s Student Government Association.

“The first six weeks is a very vulnerable time for incoming freshmen,” Lesley, a rising senior government and politics major, said. “So obviously it’s super important for the office to be staffed and be prepared to handle those intakes and to handle those reports.”

At any moment, she said, the Department of Education could release changes to Title IX guidelines to offices around the country, further shaking a University of Maryland office that is already short-staffed.

Last November, the department released guidelines that narrowed the purview of Title IX offices and granted the accused additional rights, including the right to cross-examine their accuser. Afterward, the policy underwent a public comment period, but no updates have been made since.

“At the end of the day, the people who are going to be impacted is the students,” Lesley said. “It’s hard for us to wait for an office or department to get back on its feet.”

Elena LeVan, the SGA’s director of sexual misconduct prevention, said she’s concerned about the high turnover at the office, and it may be because of different expectations for it, as both an investigatory body and an educational one.

“If you don’t know where the office that you’re working in stands on campus, it’s difficult to know the way that you’re supposed to be working,” said the rising senior psychology major.

But she’s hopeful that new staff might bring new solutions, including a reduction in the length of sexual misconduct investigations.

The university’s 2018 report on sexual misconduct did not include the average length of an investigation, but in 2017, the average was 90 business days, 30 days longer than allotted by university policy.

“With a new staff, we can kind of start from square one,” she said.

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