Student senators did not hold back in questioning Kansas State’s Title IX coordinator at the Student Governing Association meeting Thursday.
One senator asked if the university is fully compliant with Title IX, which was called for in a resolution passed by SGA last spring.
“Everything that we do is going to be in compliance with the law — and the law, as it’s stated, we are fully complaint with the law,” Travis Gill, Title IX coordinator and director of the Office of Institutional Equity, said.
Another senator asked if the university was compliant with the “Dear Colleague” letters from the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, which advise universities to investigate off-campus sexual assault, including at greek houses.
Gill said the university’s policy was drafted off the “Dear Colleague” letters that were around when the policy was written, but more letters have been written since then. Gill has only been at K-State for about a year.
“The intent of the policy absolutely complies and follows the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, it’s just the guidance has been ever-shifting over the years,” Gill said.
When asked by a senator, Gill compared K-State’s sexual assault policies with those of other universities.
Gill said most universities have a student code of conduct that has jurisdiction everywhere. That allows the universities to consider sexual assault, regardless of where it occurred, as a student conduct issue.
“Kansas State University’s code of conduct doesn’t branch out beyond campus, so that’s one of the core reasons that we can’t go from that vantage point and say, ‘Hey, this is a student conduct issue,’ which is the way that most of these universities have been treating it,” Gill said.
Those student codes of conduct usually prohibit sexual assault, Gill said. K-State’s does not specifically prohibit sexual assault.
He said the university does not have the legal authority to investigate allegations of sexual assault the same way as law enforcement does.
“Unlike our Kansas State University Police Department or the Riley County Police Department, we are not able to do DNA swabs or gather evidence or sheets or really do that type of work,” Gill said. “It’s frustrating to us because it would make our evaluation of those cases so much easier, but because we’re not a police entity, the law does not really provide those permissions for us.”
“And we’re always cautious, because everything we do could then hinder the actual criminal process,” Gill continued. “So when we ask people questions, when we pull evidence, when we try to do anything, it sometimes taints the evidence that a person could then later use in that actual criminal process. So we sometimes will take a step back and let that criminal process take a head start, and then we follow suit.”
Students who want justice after a sexual assault have to go through the police, Gill said.
“The criminal justice system and my office are completely different,” Gill said.
Even so, Gill said his department will work more closely with the Riley County district attorney, including more information-sharing and holding joint training sessions.
The university can punish students for committing sexual assault, Gill said in response to a senator’s question. Expulsion is the most extreme punishment, which would be used in instances of rape. Other punishments would depend on the severity of the sexual assault.
A lower punishment, such as mandatory training, could be used in a situation where a student groped another student while they were both drunk on a dance floor, Gill said.
“That may be a learning moment and something where we look at a lesser sanction,” Gill said.
His office can issue a protective order, Gill said, to protect people from unwanted contact.
In response to a senator’s question, Gill said alleged perpetrators are allowed to defend themselves and bring in witnesses and evidence.
If an underage student happened to have been drinking alcohol when a sexual assault occurred, and then the student went to one of the university’s resources, that student would not be punished for minor in consumption or possession, Gill said in response to a senator’s question.
“We want that person to come without fear that we’re somehow (going to punish them),” Gill said.
A senator also asked about staff turnover in the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education office, where two coordinators stepped down. Gill deferred to Scott Jones, associate dean of student life, who said “turnover at that level is not uncommon.”
Jones said CARE may apply for grant funding for more staff positions.
“We’re in the final stages of an analysis about that, and I think the preliminary indication is that we have made a grant consistent with that requirement language,” Jones said. “We won’t apply for the grant if we fully can’t abide by it.”
Gill told senators how a friend’s experience when they both attended the University of Oklahoma led him into his career. He said “Jane,” a freshman in his dorm, had a difficult time finding help at the university after a sexual assault.
Now, Gill said K-State has “a wealth of resources” for victims of sexual assault, as well as their allies, which are detailed on the Office of Institutional Equity’s website.
Lori Goetsch, dean of K-State Libraries, addressed the library’s reduced hours, which was brought on by budget cuts.
The budget cuts, Goetsch said, were a result of a loss in state funding and a drop in enrollment numbers.
She said the libraries faced “extraordinary inflation” in the cost of several library materials.
“Typically we increase about 6 percent annually in the cost of library materials,” Goetsch said. “What we have to pay to put books on the shelves, continue journals, all the electronic resources that you use in the library, those are all things we pay for, and we pay an increased amount every year to keep those things.”
The cost of one subscription package from five major publishers increased 21 percent, or $417,000, she said.
Before 2009, the library received $500,000 a year from the university to cover inflation, Goetsch said. But for the past seven years, that money had to be found elsewhere in the library’s budget.
The budget is about 90 percent collections and personnel, Goetsch said, which leaves only 10 percent for everything else.
“That leaves not a lot of wiggle room when looking for places to cut,” Goetsch said.
While other areas of the library’s budget were cut, reducing the number of hours allowed the library to save on personnel and security costs.
“In my 35 years as a library professional, this is the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” Goetsch said.
She is trying to find funds to keep the library open until 2 a.m., which would cost between $20,000-$25,000, but said she doesn’t know where the money would come from.
“It sounds sort of contradictory to say this, but it’s been very gratifying to see the response that we’ve gotten from the student community,” Goetsch said. “We’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of emails, comments on social media, blog posts, the petition that was out, raising concerns about this. We are right there with you.”