New Title IX coordinator faces questions over record

New Title IX coordinator faces questions over record

Abe Asher and Liam McMahon

Macalester’s incoming Title IX and Bias Harassment Coordinator Regina Curran is facing questions from students about her record at American University as she prepares to start at the college in April.

At American, where she has worked since 2017, Curran has overseen a Title IX office that is under five separate federal investigations for mishandling sexual violence cases. Two of those cases have been filed in the last three years.

The university is also under a sixth federal investigation for mishandling a case of retaliation that predates Curran’s tenure as Title IX Program Officer.

Those investigations are ongoing, and Curran’s role in them is difficult to discern.

In interviews with The Mac Weekly, students and student journalists at American painted a picture of a Title IX office that lacks the trust of students — pointing to larger problems in the Title IX processes used in colleges and universities across the country.

Curran declined to be interviewed for this story, citing her need to “focus fully” on her duties at American. Her first day at Macalester is Monday, April 13.

Director of Employment Services Bob Graf, who led the search committee that chose to hire Curran over two other finalists, also declined to comment.

Curran will be Macalester’s first full-time Title IX and Bias Harassment Coordinator since Timothy Dunn resigned abruptly last April after Blair Cha ’20 presented President Brian Rosenberg with a 30-page report detailing negative student experiences with Dunn’s office.

Since then, Macalester has had two interim Title IX coordinators: Tara Adams, who replaced Dunn in April and Dion Farganis, who took over from Adams in mid-August and has served in the role during the current academic year.

Farganis, a former political science professor at Elon University, is only on campus during a handful of select windows of time each week. His primary employment is with the Lathrop GPM law firm in Minneapolis.

Curran, on the other hand, has had a long career at colleges and universities in Title IX administration.

She first worked at American between 2012 and 2015 as the assistant dire ctor for student conduct and conflict resolution services, a precursor to American’s dedicated Title IX office.

Curran left American in 2015 to work in the Title IX office at Towson University, before moving again to take a job as a special investigator in the University of Maryland’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct office in 2016.

When Curran returned to American as Title IX program officer in 2017, she inherited an office in distress — under three separate federal investigations into its handling of sexual violence cases, one each filed in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Since then, two more American community members filed grievances with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) over its handling of a sexual violence-related Title IX investigation: one in November 2018, and another in March 2019.

The five open federal investigations into American’s handling of sexual violence cases is the most at any college or university in the country. No other university in Washington, D.C. is currently under investigation for its handling of a Title IX case.

The extent to which Curran is personally responsible for problems in American’s Title IX office is unclear. Several students at American said that their frustrations with the Title IX office are about much more than Curran, who is not particularly well-known on campus.

“The mishandling of Title IX cases is not just in the Title IX office,” junior Reid Fauble said. “It goes beyond that with staff on campus.”

“The general attitude [is] that Title IX is not very effective,” junior Haley Epping said. “A lot of people that I’ve talked with that reported and dealt with the office of Title IX have said that nothing has occurred from it.”

Epping also pointed to issues that extend beyond the Title IX office.

“Basically, I think the individual people at Title IX could be doing more effective work and they just are tied up within the bureaucracy of AU that they aren’t doing the most that they could,” she said. “And I think that’s a fault of AU’s culture and also people themselves.”

To that point, the editorial board of American’s student newspaper The Eagle excoriated the college’s administration last year for failing to disclose it was facing a new federal investigation for Title IX violations — the fourth of the five ongoing investigations — calling the lack of transparency “unsettling and self-defeating.”

Both claimants and respondents have the ability to file grievances with the OCR — meaning that the five open federal investigations could reflect a Title IX office that is highly supportive of victims and levies strong sanctions against perpetrators, or one that leaves survivors feeling alienated and lets perpetrators off easily.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Sarah Brown, it used to be predominantly co mplainants who filed claims with the OCR. Over the last four or five years, however, that has changed.

“It’s definitely true that, for a while, it was complainants who were using the OCR process to try to seek justice,” she said. “And it’s fair to say that, increasingly, respondents who feel that they have been treated unfairly while going through an investigation have also turned to the process.”

This is part of the reason why it is difficult to analyze what the federal investigations into American’s Title IX office might mean.

“Is it alarming that somebody presided over an office that presided over so many federal investigations? It might be,” Brown said. “But it’s tricky because there is a lot we don’t know about these federal investigations nowadays because of less transparency from the Department of Education.”

That lack of transparency has been a hallmark of Betsy DeVos’s tenure at the Department of Education — a tenure that has been extremely sympathetic to Title IX respondents and relatively hostile towards everyone else.

In fact, the Trump administration may be preparing to roll back one of Curran’s major accomplishments at American.

Early in her tenure as Title IX program officer, Curran’s office shifted its process for determining whether someone accused of a Title IX violation is held responsible from a hearing model to an investigative model.

The reforms meant that an investigator made that determination and a panel of students, faculty and staff levied sanctions against those held responsible. Both the respondent and claimant could appeal those decisions, and if they disliked the outcome of the appeal, could file a report with the OCR.

“So far, I would view the investigator model as successful,” Curran told The Eagle in 2018. “The process seems less daunting. We have seen an increase in reports. I think we are better able to resource students through the process.”

Senior and editor-in-chief of The Eagle Lydia Calitri agreed.

“That was something I would say, talking to the students I have, that did make things a bit easier on them,” she said.

The Trump administration’s Title IX guidelines have not been finalized, but they are expected to force schools like American away from the investigatory model and back towards a hearing model. Such a change would affect Macalester as well.

When it comes to Curran personally, students have had mixed experiences.

“It was less of Regina being unhelpful, and more of the process being annoying,” Calitri said of student frustrations with the Title IX office. “She was relatively helpful — it was just the circumstances of the case.”

Other people have had less positive experiences with Curran. Fabule, for example, who filed a Title IX complaint last year, called her “brisk” and “insensitive.”

“I was expecting someone who was very warm and welcoming and wanted to create a very safe, comfortable environment,” Fauble said. “I didn’t feel that way with her.”

But it is possible that, given the nature of their work and the flawed system they are a part of, very few Title IX coordinators would receive overwhelmingly positive reviews from students. 

In September, Brown published a 5,000-word story in The Chronicle titled “Life Inside the Title IX Pressure Cooker” — detailing the immense pressures, both internal and external, that have overwhelmed Title IX coordinators in institutions across the country.

The effects of those pressures are considerable: the burnout rate for Title IX coordinators is high and turnover in Title IX offices is frequent — slowing investigations and making it difficult for offices to build trust with students.

As of 2018, two-thirds of Title IX coordinators had been in their jobs for three years or less. Curran is part of that trend: she spent just over a year at Towson, just under a year at the University of Maryland and now just under three years American.

“If you’re recruiting an experienced Title IX coordinator who actually has experience, there’s a chance that they have been named in a lawsuit — perhaps multiple lawsuits — because that’s just the nature of the job,” Brown said.

“It is really hard to recruit experienced candidates, and the ones that are the most experienced tend to have red flags — like the federal investigations.”

But Brown noted a silver lining to the number of federal investigations into American.

“More complaints being filed with the OCR means that more students felt comfortable coming forward and they’re aware of the various resources available to them,” Brown said. “That’s a good thing.”

That said, an increase in federal investigations might not signal the same thing as an increase in reports to Title IX offices.

“There is a distinction there,” Brown said. “Obviously more students coming forward with Title IX reports on college campuses suggest that more students are comfortable reporting. The federal investigation side of things… suggests that something potentially went wrong.”