Editor’s Note: Sarah Spoon, Editor-in-Chief of The Bulletin, sat down with Allison Garrett, president of the university, on Dec. 17 of 2018 to talk about the aftermath of the Jane coverage, Garrett sent a campus-wide email Dec. 12 to inform students, faculty and staff that Brian Schrader was “no longer at the university.” Schrader was the center of a Bulletin investigation last semester, which told the story of an undergraduate student—called “Jane” for anonymity—who said she felt “hopeless” after the university’s response to her sexual assault complaint.
Sarah Spoon - I know after the stories broke, you held some town hall meetings and different things, and there was a lot of mistrust about how the situation was handled, confusion (and) a lot of upset feelings, I think it’s safe to say. So, one of my questions is, how is the university working to earn the campus’ trust back when it comes to handling issues such as this?
Allison Garrett - That’s a good questions and we’ve done a couple of things that I think are really important steps forward. And of course, we aren’t done yet, but one is we’ve hired someone who is fully dedicated to Title IX matters: Jennifer Ananda. I don’t know if you have had the opportunity to meet her or interview her yet, but Jennifer comes to us with a law degree, years of experience in domestic assault work and also with KU’s Title IX office. She is very, very well prepared to work on these matters for us and has done a fantastic job hitting the ground running over the last few months.
We’ve had, also, the Title IX committee that has been doing its work and hopefully, in the very near future, it will be in the position to share with the campus the results of their work. Their work doesn’t complete things because in some instances they will be recommending policy changes...to specific groups within the university. And so those groups will be looking at the recommendations and then making decisions of how to move forward in a way that is best practice with respect to handling Title IX matters. So I think those are two really important steps forward.
S - For those who don’t know or haven’t been able to keep up with the Title IX committee, what policies are they looking at specifically?
G - The Title IX committee, which includes faculty mem
bers, staff members and students, was asked to consider several different questions. One was best practices with respect to privacy issues around Title IX. As you know, this is a complicated area where while campus certainly has a desire to know about certain things there’s also the reality of witnesses being unwilling to come forward if they might be publicly named. So you’re balancing a lot of competing concerns, so making recommendations with respect to privacy issues was one aspect.
Making recommendations with respect to training faculty, staff and students was another and then also making recommendations as to the appropriate standard of proof in these types of matters. As your readers might well recall, one of the complicating factors last Spring, or potentially complicating factors was the fact that the standard of proof applicable to a tenure faculty member was different than the standard of proof that applied to others. I don’t know whether it would have made a difference in this particular matter but it’s certainly an important question.
S - So, hindsight being 2020, looking back over this past year, if you personally had the opportunity...to change one thing about how the university handled this situation, what would it be?
G - That’s an interesting question. I don’t personally have the level of understanding about best practices, as they have changed, because we’ve seen a lot of change in practices over the last two or three years, I don’t know whether the university was as nimble in changing our processes as perhaps we could have been. Whether that could have made a difference with respect to this matter, I don’t know. But I think we’ll continue to see best practices change. And one thing that you may be aware of is that the department of education is looking at additional changes to Title IX so one of the ironies of having this committee of faculty, staff and students look at our processes is that there’s also the potential for changes to occur out of Washington and so we have to watch all of that as well. It’s hard to say what we would have changed. One of the things that is true about these matters is that there are laws and regulations that deal with the privacy of the parties involved so that also makes this a really complicated matter.
S - Did this issue change you personally in any way?
G - That’s a really interesting question as well. It did cause me to do personal reflection and I think, and I would hate to generalize about everyone, but I think many women, particularly women of a certain age have had various things happen to them which are troubling and as I look back now on things that happened to me when I was younger, I wonder if, having the benefit of now being 50 something and society changing and expectations changing, if I would have handled those matters differently. So there’s been some self reflection on that as well. And as someone who is raising a daughter, it is something that I think about a lot too, because I do think it’s absolutely true that our culture hasn’t yet arrived at what we would all hope would be a situation where women don’t have to deal with things that are inappropriate in the workforce or in the workplace.
S - Do you think your background as a lawyer helped or hindered you in your ability to lead the university in this situation?
G - I do believe that it is helpful to have that understanding but I try, also, to be mindful that not everything is easily answered by pointing to a particular law or particular policy or regulation. That there are real people involved and real concerns and real feelings involved so I try to be mindful of that as well. You know that the reality is as the university or the leader of the university, we cannot ignore the law. So the challenge is finding a way to comply with the law that is also as respectful as we can be of how people may be feeling about a particular matter.
S - How does the campus move forward from this without dishonoring victims of sexual assault?
G - I do believe that when we are at the point of considering, as a campus, the Title IX task force recommendations, there will be a number of really positive things that come out of that. I think that all of us have probably grown in looking back at what happened last year and understanding the complexities and the nuances of a matter like this but we’ll certainly be updating our policies and our procedures, taking a look at the standard of evidence that applies to everyone and asking “Is it right that a different standard of evidence might apply to a particular individual?” and looking at the kind of training that we do, not just for faculty and staff but also for students. One of the things that I think was a very positive thing that came out of it was there were many people who were sharing their stories and while it’s certainly true that those stories are very painful, I think that everyone having an understanding of how things can happen to anyone that are troubling and asking “how do we move forward?” “What are the resources we have?” As a campus I think we have a better understanding of the resources, not just the counseling center, but THRIVE and the local SOS group, I mean there are a number of really good resources and I think this brought into focus the many resources that a campus of this size really does have for people who have maybe been victims of some kind of assault or other matter.
…S - Anything else you want to say about the situation? Things you’ve learned? Things you’ve thought about? Things maybe other people, as you’ve been talking about in administration, have learned?
G - I think, for me, and maybe for others too, and maybe for you, the complexity of a matter like this and the fact that there are so many competing interests that have to be balanced, just understanding all of that and trying to balance all of that is such a challenge. I doubt that it is possible to balance all of those and have every single individual who’s involved think that you got it exactly right. But we certainly tried to balance all of those interests. And then just the level of complexity that is involved conducting an investigation and trying to create an environment where people who may have information are actually willing to share that information, which is very, very difficult for people to do. I think all of us have learned a lot about more complex investigations and hopefully that will help us as we move forward in the future.