UVM president delivers report from external review of Title IX office


Kate Vanni

Student protesters clasp their hands together and raise them over their heads, mimicking the motion displayed by Hendrick as they stand on top of the Waterman steps May 3.

President Suresh Garimella publicized a three-page report of the independent external review of UVM’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity in an Oct. 25 email to the UVM community. 

The report found almost all students interviewed for Title IX investigations said they felt underprepared and confused by the process. Nearly all Title IX cases were delayed beyond their target deadline of 60 days, according to the report. Still, the report stated students who were interviewed praised the Intake and Outreach Coordinator. 

Despite these procedural deficiencies, the findings suggested UVM’s processes and procedures are consistent with their written policies and federal law. Files and records were well maintained with no significant deficiencies, according to the report. 

The reviewers interviewed AAEO staff and included certain investigation files and reports in their process. They contacted all students who interacted with the AAEO within the past three years to offer the opportunity to be interviewed as part of the review, according to the report. 

“Students interviewed praised the Intake and Outreach Coordinator as well as others who may have assisted in this role,” the review stated. “The investigators conducted their interviews in accordance with the requirements of impartiality, demonstrating neutrality in their tone and in their questioning of interviewees.” 

However, some survivors at UVM were outspoken towards the public about their poor experiences with one of AAEO’s investigators, Kate Spence. Multiple survivors at UVM feel Spence mishandled their case proceedings, according to a May 21 Cynic article

The report also states some students were dissatisfied with the investigators’ understandings and determinations of consent.  

“Several students interviewed expressed concern that the investigator had made a decision that the sexual activity had been consensual, rather than a determination that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation of sexual activity without consent,” the report stated. 

The Title IX Intake and Outreach Coordinator at UVM is Taryn Moran, according to UVM’s AAEO contact website. No other specific staff members of the AAEO were mentioned in Grand River Solutions’ report. 

Garimella commissioned Grand River Solutions to conduct this review of UVM’s AAEO, according to the email. The review came from an administrative agreement to student demands last spring for the University to improve its handling of sexual violence. 

Garimella directed the AAEO to implement all recommendations from the investigation immediately or as soon as is practical, according to the email. 

I hope the forthcoming changes in AAEO along with many others already in progress demonstrate UVM’s unwavering commitment to continually review and improve our efforts to prevent and to appropriately address allegations of sexual misconduct,” the email stated. 

Some students felt dissatisfied with UVM’s response to student demands, including the decision to use Grant River Solutions to review the AAEO. 

Senior Caroline Shelley, founder of the Student Title IX Advisory Committee, felt the demands admin agreed to were not adequately fulfilled, according to an Oct. 11 Cynic article. She also said Grand River Solutions was the wrong organization to conduct the review. 

“It’s my feeling, as well as some folks on my committee, that we wish the University would have chosen a more survivor-centered organization, [such as] an organization like RAINN, which is Rape Abuse Incest National Network, to conduct a review of the Title IX office,” Shelley said. 

Grand River Solutions’ website states they utilize cost-effective solutions and prioritize the clients’ needs to facilitate safe and equitable work and education environments. 

Recommendations: The investigation process 

  • The report recommends the AAEO develop a thorough and easily-understandable brochure, flowcharts or handout to give to parties involved. 
  • The report recommends the AAEO develop differentiated scripted checklists for investigators to go through at the end of interviews. 
  • The report recommends the AAEO provide regular status updates to parties as opposed to making parties seek out information themselves, and that notifications of status updates be clearly differentiated from notifications of investigation completion. 
  • The report recommends the AAEO not notify parties of an extended investigation timeframe within the week that the outcome was initially promised, to prevent undue distress. 
  • The report recommends that AAEO investigators not cold-call parties with follow-up questions and instead schedule follow-up interviews ahead of time. 
  • The report recommends the AAEO not deliver reports during school breaks or holidays, when students may be away from campus and lacking adequate support resources. 

Recommendations: Reports 

  • The report recommends the AAEO consider creating an evidence log for each report with specifications as to which evidence was provided by each party or witness and which evidence was not considered, along with a clear rationale for exclusion of evidence. 
  • The report recommends that for the AAEO’s credibility and reliability determinations, the Office increases focus on evidence, plausibility, logic, reliability, motive and consistency, and that the AAEO should note whether the relevant party is able to credibly explain reasons behind any inconsistencies. 
  • The report recommends the AAEO include additional explanatory and educational language on the distinctions between varying standards for capacity to consent (drunk, incapacitated, etc). 
  • The report recommends the AAEO organize reports to separate analysis of capacity for consent as distinct from the analysis of if the respondent was aware of the complainant’s incapacitation. 
  • The report recommends the AAEO includes greater detail in the written rationale of investigation report determinations. 

Recommendations: General procedures 

  • The report recommends the AAEO aim to contact non-responsive reporting parties at least thrice, instead of the current practice of reaching out at least twice. The report states recommendations to use multiple methods of contacting parties to ensure parties are reached and made aware of available resources. 
  • The report recommends the AAEO work alongside other offices to ensure a consistent understanding of support options and AAEO processes. 

Recommendations: Files 

  • The report recommends the AAEO continue to maintain all information associated with each given report in a single centralized location, including records of outreach made by other offices.