News

Stanford University Title IX coordinator to step down

Former federal attorney held post during embattled year for university

Catherine Criswell, Stanford University's Title IX coordinator and a former longtime U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights attorney, is leaving her post at the university after a little more than a year on the job, the university confirmed Thursday.

Criswell was named Stanford's first-ever full-time, dedicated Title IX coordinator in May 2014, taking over for a person who had other duties and was working on Title IX part time. She arrived at Stanford after a 19-year-long career at the Office for Civil Rights -- which enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination by schools and colleges on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex and age -- and specialized in sexual harassment and violence. She had served as both a chief attorney at OCR and director of the agency's Cleveland regional office, which covered both Ohio and Michigan states.

University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said Thursday that Criswell plans to depart on Sept. 11, before the start of the new school year.

The University of Virginia -- which came under fire this year following a later-discredited Rolling Stone story about a brutal on-campus rape -- announced Friday that Criswell will be joining its staff as the new assistant vice president for equal opportunity programs.

She will "be responsible for monitoring and coordinating compliance with nondiscrimination laws and for overseeing the investigations of all complaints alleging discrimination," reads a press release from the university detailing new efforts to address sexual violence and alcohol abuse.

Criswell assumed her post at Stanford at a time of heightened interest in and criticism of universities' and colleges' handling of sexual assault throughout the country – and just weeks before the national spotlight would turn to Stanford.

In June 2014, Leah Francis, then a 21-year-old senior, publicly challenged the university's handling of her case -- an off-campus sexual assault by another Stanford student. She alleged the university's investigation into the assault, which she reported in January, took more than twice as long as the 60 days recommended under federal law and that the consequences imposed on her assailant, whom a university panel eventually found responsible for sexual assault through force and violation of university policy, fell short of his crime.

Francis' case tested Stanford's policies around sexual assault – and very publicly so, with hundreds of students attending a rally she organized that June, a #StandWithLeah hashtag that went viral on Twitter, new student and staff educational programs around consent and sexual assault and more campus events and protests the next school year.

Tests would continue for Stanford throughout the 2014-15 school year, with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity losing its housing indefinitely following a sexual-harassment investigation; accusations that Joe Lonsdale, Stanford alumnus, mentor and co-founder of Palo Alto software company Palantir, had sexually assaulted and abused a former girlfriend during a year-long relationship that took place while she was a Stanford undergraduate; the arrest of an all-star Stanford swimmer after two witnesses found him on top of an unconscious woman outside a university fraternity late one January night; and the university's sanctioning of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB) following a Title IX investigation that found incidents of alcohol and drug use, hazing and sexual harassment. Criswell was subject to much student criticism over SAE's suspension and the marching band's sanctions, in particular.

In February, Stanford also joined the fast-growing list of colleges and universities across the country under federal investigation for violations of gender-equity law Title IX. The Office for Civil Rights opened the investigation in response to a complaint filed in December by Francis, who has alleged the university failed to promptly and equitably provide a response to and resolution for the sexual-assault report she filed in January 2014.

San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal organization that supports women's rights, is representing Francis along with three other women affiliated with Stanford, according to a fundraising postcard the organization sent out this month.

A second Title IX investigation was opened at Stanford in May, according to a list released by the Office for Civil Rights. OCR declined to release a notification letter associated with the case as it "could reasonably be expected to hinder the ongoing activities in the case," Regional Director Arthur Zeidman wrote in a letter to the Weekly.

Criswell also served on a university task force charged last June with reviewing and issuing recommendations on Stanford's sexual-assault policies and procedures. The group's much-anticipated report was released in April. Most notable among its recommendations is a policy change still seen as radical for many colleges — that any student found responsible for sexual assault will be expelled.

Provost John Etchemendy wrote in a letter to the university in April that he plans to move forward on as many as possible of the task force's recommendations in the coming academic year.

"Stanford is grateful for the considerable contributions Catherine made to Stanford over the past year and a half, including expanding the Title IX office and her participation on the Provost's Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices," the Stanford Provost's Office stated in an announcement. "We wish her well as she returns to be closer to her family on the East Coast."

An online job posting for the Title IX coordinator position includes managing the day-to-day responsibilities associated with the university's Title IX compliance obligations; supervising the Office for Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Education and Response to "ensure that students are aware of their options and resources with respect to reporting and filing complaints alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct and relationship violence"; and collecting all relevant facts related to any reported Title IX incident and evaluating whether or not further review or an investigation is necessary.

"As a neutral party, the Title IX Coordinator will investigate alleged discrimination; notify and interview complainants, respondents and witnesses; obtain and review relevant documents; and issue factual findings and recommendations, as necessary," the posting reads.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 12:16 pm

After years of inaction, it's going to be a tough job to change the culture at Stanford.


1 person likes this
Posted by student
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 28, 2015 at 1:06 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Stanford Student
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 28, 2015 at 3:07 pm

For more context on "much student criticism over SAE's suspension and the marching band's sanctions", be sure to check out The Fountain Hopper, 23rd edition. It details the "increasingly destructive political ruckus between two factions of Stanford's administration" that forced Criswell to bail.

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Ben Dover
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 28, 2015 at 3:19 pm

I bet many universities would love to have to option to dump their OCRs (Office of Civil Rights). But since Stanford receives Federal monies, they're stuck with the federal intrusion and mingling. Title IX made sense in the 1970s and early 1980s but its power grab beyond its initial purpose has been astounding. [Portion removed due to factual inaccuracy.]


Like this comment
Posted by duely processed
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm

the Virginia posting seems like a strange reward for a botched job at Stanford, albeit a difficult one.

But then again the whole extension of Title IX to mandated preponderance of the evidence standards for sexual assault on college campus is strange.


Like this comment
Posted by pricedout
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2015 at 5:46 pm

How do you get to the Fountain Hopper 23rd edition?
I subscribed but still can't figure it out.
just see the stuff about the grad student poisoner.
sorry to be so thick---
thank you if you can help


Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 30, 2015 at 7:40 am

@pricedout

I think if you just hit the "Web Link" at the bottom of the Stanford Student's post (above), you will get to the right edition of FoHo. That's what I did and it worked. Good luck. Interesting reading!


Like this comment
Posted by oricedout
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2015 at 7:54 am

@PA resident
Thank you - pretty stupid of me -
That was kind of you.


4 people like this
Posted by Who really runs Stanford
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 30, 2015 at 9:09 am

I would hate to think that fraternities like SAE were able to run Stanford's TItle IX coordinator off campus. But that seems to be what happened.


2 people like this
Posted by Female Parent and Alum
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 31, 2015 at 3:42 pm

I can say nothing short of I am THRILLED to see the departure of Catherine Criswell. While I am 100% supportive of responsible behavior and 100% opposed to true sexual assault, in my opinion, I have silently watched the Title IX office under Catherine's leadership grossly misinterepret the laws and misapply the regulations in a number of cases, including Leah's, which has led to unprecedented discord and lack of civility not typical at Stanford. She has threatened the very fabric of Stanford culture which has historically been a beacon of balance and happiness. I look forward to the return of civil discourse and punishments that fit true crimes at my beloved alma mater.


Like this comment
Posted by Nan Ni
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 11, 2015 at 6:09 am

She did not do a botched job at Stanford; administrators botched the job she was assigned to do, overturning her sanctions to the benefit of their brand. I think Catherine Criswell could do more for UVA than she ever could do with Stanford's current leadership.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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