Faculty and Students: University’s Internal Investigations Are Missing the Point

Dean of Students Christopher Rodgers at a United Student Government meeting in the Spring semester. (COLIN SHEELEY/THE OBSERVER)

By COLIN SHEELEY
News Editor

The university is a receptive machine. This year, the administration has picked up several signals from staff and students for greater transparency, to which they have promised several initiatives on behalf of the university president, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. In his 2017 Fall Convocation address, he stressed “the need for better, honest and very nearly constant communication,” and to a certain degree, the university has delivered; press conferences and pizza luncheons are only a part of it. Most notably, emails are coming in at a higher frequency and with significantly more detail.

Especially in the case of internal investigations, the university now sends six-to-seven-hundred-word statements, bulleted summaries and lists of rulings accompanied by ethical reasoning and, in the case of last year’s April 27 Cunniffe House clash, an eight-page “PRIVILEGED & CONFIDENTIAL” third-party investigative report.

In similar fashion, the university’s statement on the Aug. 18 Resident Assistant (RA) training incident surrounding Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students at Rose Hill, Christopher Rodgers, was thorough, as was its inquiry. The email, which was sent Oct. 26, noted that the Department of Public Safety and Title IX Coordinator, Anastasia Coleman, were tasked with interviewing 30 people, with some meetings lasting up to five hours.

These statements and accounts were then shipped off for a third-party review to Cullen and Dykman LLP, a law firm that advises several universities in New York on employment and sexual misconduct. From these records, the firm concluded that Rodgers, who at the time held the position of Deputy Title IX Coordinator, did not violate any university policy or code of conduct, nor is he in any way “biased or purposefully insensitive towards claims of sexual misconduct.” Nevertheless, the findings acknowledged that going forward, Rodgers’ behavior has the potential to “dissuade some RAs from performing their duties,” such as reporting claims of sexual misconduct to him.

As such, the university has appointed Michele Burris, associate vice president for student affairs, to the position of First Deputy Title IX Coordinator who will “serve as an additional resource” to students with sexual misconduct claims. The university declined to comment whether this signified Rodgers’ removal from any Title IX responsibilities. In addition, the statement announced that it will reschedule any RA training missed as a result of the incident, as well as “clarify” the role of the Title IX Coordinator, though at the time of this publication three weeks later, no respective action has been taken.

Rowan Hornbeck, Fordham College at Rose Hill ’18 who was present at the original incident and afterwards wrote a statement condemning Rodgers’ actions, was glad that the university had taken steps to address the issue, but she hoped that this statement would not be the last thing she heard about the matter. “It’s nice that they’re validating our concerns,” Hornbeck said, “but it’s frustrating that there’s no accountability.”

Outside of the law firm’s assessments, Rodgers is mentioned just once more in the remainder of the statement. The apology from the Division of Student Affairs goes without specific attribution. In an interview with the Fordham Ram, Hornbeck said that it was “frustrating that the investigation didn’t see that he was kind of the root of a lot of our concerns.”

By removing Rodgers from the framework of the issue, the university is completely missing the point, and though it is impossible to know whether or not this disconnect is intentional, Hornbeck said she believes that, amongst her peers, “there’s a fear that these things are just for show.”

Likewise, this feeling resonates with Professor Andrew Clark, Ph.D., who serves as the vice president of the Faculty Senate. “In no way does the investigation appear to give Student Affairs or the Administration any sense that they should rethink how and what they do,” Clark said in a statement to The Observer. “Rather, the investigations seem to embolden their sense that what they have done is right and that the procedures should remain in place and not be changed.”

He suggested that instead, the university should approach these incidents as opportunities to listen to students.

Even so, Professor Fawzia Mustafa, Ph.D., notes that the current extent to which the university is acting with transparency “is very, very new.” She could not recall any similar incidents that had occurred in the past. What the future holds, is ultimately up to the administration.

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