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Debate brews over role of anonymous Title IX-related complaints in course evaluations

Though the University effectively rejected a proposal created by the University Senate’s Faculty Affairs Committee to prohibit internal investigations into anonymous Title IX-related complaints made in course evaluations, fears surrounding the issue persist.

The proposal asks that the University disregard anonymous complaints made on course evaluations and campus publications’ comment sections that could compel a Title IX investigation against faculty members. In response to an inquiry made by Spectator, the University released a statement saying they were obliged to respond to any information reporting a hostile environment, as described by Title IX, regardless of whether the source was anonymous.

“When our Title IX Coordinator, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, or other so-called ‘non-confidential’ resources at Columbia learn of the possibility of a hostile classroom environment, our legal obligations and the safety of our community dictate a response…The fact such information is conveyed by an anonymous source does not preclude the need for this evaluation,” the statement said.

Regardless of whether or not a school is legally able to make a policy disallowing any anonymous complaints from compelling a Title IX investigation, doing so could leave them more liable to a lawsuit should it be found that one of those complaints detailed a truly unsafe experience of which the school had knowledge, but did not investigate.

According to Katie Shipp, a Title IX expert and associate at Marsh Law Firm PLLC, as public scrutiny of universities’ compliance with Title IX is increasing, schools are focusing on doing their best to protect themselves.

“I think schools are being really careful right now… A lot of people are looking at them and looking at what they’re doing,” Shipp said. “I think they’re going to be more cautious, and the regulations are pretty clear that if they’re put on notice of sexual violence or discrimination or harassment or retaliation, then they have to investigate.”

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