The University of Maryland’s student government is dropping a proposal to impose a new $34 Title IX fee on each student’s bill, after the administration promised an independent review and pledged to foot the bill to hire additional staff.
The administration requested meetings with student leaders following a BuzzFeed News report on a Student Government Association proposal, which attracted national scrutiny to the university’s approach to dealing with sexual assault on campus.
Student government leaders agreed to withdraw their proposal after meeting with Wallace Loh, the university president, on Oct. 21, where he committed to hire an outside firm to evaluate UMD’s sexual assault investigations. The university also said this month it approved funding for another sexual misconduct investigator, and created two new positions in the campus health center’s CARE to Stop Violence office "to increase counseling and outreach efforts.”
It’s a major turnaround from what the university’s administration originally said when the Title IX fee proposal was introduced, said AJ Pruitt, a vice president in the SGA who introduced the measure.
Under the SGA proposal, which passed in September, the new fee would’ve gone to support the office handling investigations of sexual assault and discrimination incidents. Pruitt put forward the fee after meeting with the director of the office, who said she was understaffed and couldn’t deal with the growing caseload. For example, investigations of sexual assault cases are taking 140 days on average to complete, though federal guidelines recommend they take no more than 60.
The administration originally said that if the Title IX fee was approved the university would only fund the aspects of the office that deal with faculty and staff cases, at a price of around $350,000.
But after coverage by BuzzFeed News and other national outlets noted it would be unprecedented for students to pay a fee to support campus sexual assault investigations, the university changed its tune. The budget has actually grown, and may increase further after the independent review.
“It’s a little bit upsetting that it took national news stories for him to pay attention to this,” SGA President Katherine Swanson told BuzzFeed News.
According to Swanson, Loh told her and Pruitt that he was getting calls in recent weeks from state legislators asking why students were likely to be charged a fee for sexual assault investigations. Schools are required to address reports of sexual assault and harassment under the federal gender equity law Title IX.
Pruitt said he never wanted to force students to pay for the office handling issues under Title IX; the student government was only using it to leverage the university into taking more responsibility covering the costs.
“Without the media coverage that we got, we would still be at the point where we would be advocating for a student fee,” Pruitt said.
Loh didn’t commit to funding what the independent evaluation recommended, but SGA leaders said they would reintroduce the Title IX fee proposal in the spring if they feel the administration isn’t following through with commitments and funding the office.
The SGA considers the promises from Loh’s administration a victory, but remain wary about what will happen in the end.
“I’d like to see the university be more ready to pick up the costs of these things rather then telling us ‘No,’ off the bat and then changing their minds,” Swanson said.