Credit: Olivia Frazier | Mustang News

The California State University system needs more oversight and accountability for Title IX reports, according to a recently completed yearlong assessment from the Cozen O’Connor law firm. 

Since March 2022, the firm analyzed the 23 CSU campuses and assessed the implementation of Title IX and Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation (DHR) programs.

On Monday they published a 236-page report, which describes systemwide problems and solutions. Individual campus reports were also made available online.

In Cal Poly’s report, Cozen O’Connor outlined key response areas for the university to focus on, the first being infrastructure, visibility and a trust gap. The firm noted a lack of understanding of the role and function of the Civil Rights and Compliance Office (CRCO). In turn, community members felt the CRCO prioritizes the university over the individual. 

The O’Connor team recommends a project plan to address such gaps and round out CRCO’s services. 

The law firm also found collaboration challenges between CRCO and Safer Confidential Advocates. Communication breakdown negatively impacts the functioning and perception of the Title IX program, as stated by the report. The O’Connor team recommends enhanced information-sharing systems for improved future collaboration.

The written report called CRCO and Safer’s prevention and education programming effective, citing high awareness among students on topics in discrimination and harassment. The report proposed having specific funding for upholding training and programs.

The report also recommends the university works closely with the Chancellor’s Office to “strengthen existing processes to address reports of other conduct of concern, build institutional competencies and expand resources.”

Cozen O’Connor administered 23 meetings with more than 60 Title IX and DHR professionals and campus partners during the Cal Poly visit Jan. 17 to 19. The O’Connor team also surveyed students, staff and faculty, with 926 responses from Cal Poly. 

Survey themes included recent hiring and appointments eroding community trust, with survey participants criticizing the hiring of former CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro as a tenured professor, as well as a “notably low” score in inclusion and respect for people with disabilities, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals, noting the annual free speech wall.

Other survey complaints concerned long delays from the Title IX office and the counseling center providing inadequate assistance. However, Safer was called a trusted resource that respondents felt comfortable utilizing.

Similar to other CSU campuses, the report cited Cal Poly’s struggle to respond to issues that do not fall under the Nondiscrimination Policy, but are disruptive to the living, learning and working environment. These instances are referred to as ‘other conduct of concern.’ In response, Cal Poly has implemented a Bias Incident Report Team and bias education and prevention programs. 

Armstrong has assembled a campus implementation team, with team members including Title IX Coordinator Maren Hufton and Interim Chief of Staff Jen Haft. 

Among the 11 members involved is Professor Rachel Fernflores – who led a task force in 2011 centered on prevention education programs. The task force’s recommendations were considered complete three to four years later, Mustang News previously reported.

Upcoming Title IX changes are slated to take at least months and will occur in stages, according to Armstrong.

Armstrong acknowledged the hard work ahead in a campuswide email, echoing Interim Chancellor Koester at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in May.

“Our ambitious goals will require substantial planning and additional resources and personnel and will be accomplished in stages,” Armstrong wrote. “We will continue to share our progress and specific plans as they develop and evolve.”