By COLIN SHEELEY
The university announced in an Oct. 26 statement the conclusion of a joint investigation into the conduct of Christopher Rodgers, assistant vice president and dean of students at Rose Hill, during an Aug. 18 Resident Assistant (RA) training presentation. The investigation, which was launched on Aug. 25 by Title IX Coordinator Anastasia Coleman and Public Safety, interviewed 30 people: 13 RAs, nine Resident Directors and eight that did not hold the preceding positions. A final decision was made earlier in the week.
Because it was not a criminal investigation, there are no official charges against Rodgers nor any verdict relating specifically to his position or responsibility as coordinator, according to Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications. Alternatively, there are “just findings and recommendations.”
As for Rodgers’ position as Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Howe said that he “can’t discuss personnel matters.”
In addition to their own examination, the university hired a third-party review, Cullen and Dykman LLP “to ensure fair and comprehensive fact findings and recommendations.” The law firm, according to the statement, services multiple universities in New York regarding employment and sexual misconduct and administers Title IX training within the state.
The firm evaluated testimony and notes relevant to the investigation, including the two video clips Rodgers had shown RAs during the presentation. The first video, which Rodgers framed as endorsing leftist “agenda,” was the trailer to a documentary called “The Hunting Ground.” The film features the accounts of sexual assault victims on college campuses, arguing that universities do not do enough in the way of preventing these crimes. Rodgers then went on to play a video from PragerU which he said occupied the diametrically opposite side of the political spectrum. In the video, a woman argues that there is “no evidence that sexual violence is a cultural norm” at universities.
“Showing those clips, in the context of the training sessions, was a mistake,” the statement acknowledges. “The Student Affairs leadership and staff understands the concerns raised by students and apologizes for the way the training was handled.”
Following their review, Cullen and Dykman concluded that Rodgers had not breached the university’s sexual misconduct policy, the university code of conduct or the handbook for administrators, and that he exhibits no bias or acts “purposefully insensitive” toward complaints of sexual impropriety.
The firm did note, however, that several RAs were concerned that Rodgers’ actions at these RA trainings could deter some RAs from reporting claims of sexual misconduct to him as the Deputy Title IX Coordinator.
Cullen and Dykman recommend that the university should offer “other options for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct” to RAs; that RAs should receive additional training on the subject of Title IX and sexual assault response; and that the role of Title IX be defined in clearer terms.
The university’s website currently describes the Title IX Coordinator as “responsible for the University’s Title IX compliance efforts and violations of University policies, including gender equity in athletics, and all forms of discrimination, limitations on consensual relationships, sex and gender discrimination, sexual harassment, rape / sex abuse, other sexual misconduct, stalking, forcible touching, dating and domestic violence, intimidation and retaliation for filing such complaints.”
“The Student Affairs leadership and staff understands the concerns raised by students and apologizes for the way the training was handled.”
The statement listed three courses of action the university has taken or will take in light of the firm’s assessment:
Michele Burris, associate vice president for student affairs, has been appointed First Deputy Title IX Coordinator, serving “as the primary contact for all students regarding student sexual misconduct complaints on all campuses.” Burris will also respond to student conduct related Title IX complaints. It is unclear whether Burris’s designation replaces Rodgers’.
Additionally, the statement notes that “requests for an alternative hearing officer in Title IX cases, made at the outset of the investigation, will be granted.”
With respect to training, the university plans to bring in a third party “as soon as is practicable” to educate RAs in aspects of Title IX procedure. Moreover, it is planning to further explain the the role and responsibilities of the Title IX Coordinator in a communication next week.
“We take prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct seriously,” the statement concludes, “and are dedicated to supporting our students when they need us most.”
The full text of the university statement is below:
University Statement | Resident Assistant Training Investigation
October 26, 2017
The University has concluded its investigation into complaints regarding the August 2017 training session conducted for Residential Life staff by Dean Christopher Rodgers. The training was intended to address sexual misconduct, Title IX, and the responsibilities that Resident Assistants (RAs) have as Campus Security Authorities.
The topic of sexual misconduct elicits strong personal and professional reactions. The views expressed in the two video clips that were used to open the training session in question did not represent the personal nor professional views of any member of the staff of the Division of Student Affairs, nor the views of Fordham University. Showing those clips, in the context of the training sessions, was a mistake. The Student Affairs leadership and staff understands the concerns raised by students and apologizes for the way the training was handled.
The investigation into complaints of the training was conducted jointly by Fordham’s Department of Public Safety and the Title IX Coordinator: 30 people were interviewed, including 13 RAs, nine Resident Directors (RDs), and eight others. The University fully considered all the complaints it received in the course of the investigation, as it was obligated to do.
The University sought a third-party review to ensure fair and comprehensive fact findings and recommendations and therefore retained the law firm of Cullen and Dykman LLP (outside counsel). All interview notes and related materials were forwarded to outside counsel. Cullen and Dykman serves as counsel to several of the New York metropolitan area’s most well-regarded colleges and universities, and handles complex employment and sexual misconduct matters and provides Title IX and Article 129-B training throughout New York State.
Cullen and Dykman’s findings are based on the factual record developed from the interviews detailed above, other documents relevant to the investigation, related University policies and procedures, the law, related authority, and reasonable inferences from the facts. From these records, Cullen and Dykman found the following:
- Dean Rodgers’ conduct at the training did not violate the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures for the Fordham University Community, the University’s Code of Conduct, nor the Handbook for Administrators.
- There is no evidence that Dean Rodgers is biased or purposefully insensitive towards claims of sexual misconduct.
- There is a genuine concern, however, among some RAs that Dean Rodgers’ actions and comments at the training sessions may dissuade some RAs from performing their duties as prescribed by policy and reporting claims of sexual misconduct to Dean Rodgers as Deputy Title IX Coordinator.
The recommendations from Cullen and Dykman include the following:
- Some RAs may not feel comfortable reporting sexual misconduct complaints or referring a complainant to Dean Rodgers, which may ultimately affect the sexual misconduct reporting climate on campus. Consequently, other options for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct should be made available to avoid such a result.
- RAs may need to address difficult and emotionally charged issues, such as claims of sexual misconduct, with their residents and must be prepared to do so. It is clear, however, that at the time of the August 18, 2017 training session, many of the RAs were not properly prepared to handle the emotional nature of sexual assault response. Further training for RAs is warranted .
- There is confusion as to the Title IX Coordinator’s role on campus. Dean Rodgers is generally responsible for handling students’ sexual misconduct claims, but the review found that the Title IX Coordinator’s role requires further clarification.
Based on the recommendations, the University is taking the following actions:
- Michele Burris, associate vice president for student affairs, has been designated First Deputy Title IX Coordinator and will serve as the primary contact for all students regarding student sexual misconduct complaints on all campuses. She will serve as an additional resource for any student who is a Title IX complainant involved in the student conduct process. Requests for an alternative hearing officer in Title IX cases, made at the outset of the investigation, will be granted.
- The University will schedule additional RA training to take place as soon as is practicable. The training will be conducted by a third party.
- The University will clarify to students the duties and responsibilities of the University’s Title IX coordinator.
Fordham University and the Division of Student Affairs is committed to providing sensitive and thoughtful training to RAs and RDs, especially on how to address topics as important and sensitive as sexual misconduct. We take prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct seriously and are dedicated to supporting our students when they need us most.