The faculty senate meeting was filled with guests on Oct. 19, the first faculty senate meeting at the University of Nevada, Reno since the recent news of ongoing litigation surfaced regarding the Feifei Fan case and recent alleged Title IX misconduct.
Title IX discussion
The meeting started off first with a presentation from Zeva Edmonson, the new director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX as of July 2023.
She explained her current goals of the office, including the initiative to rebuild their team of investigators and continue to hire more staff members. She said the first thing their office is doing now is working on the current backlog of cases with the assistance of an outside auditing group, known as TNG consulting.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, TNG Consulting was involved in a lawsuit based on alleged financial fraud. The case was settled in 2023 and according to the article, Martha Kopacz, the former employee who made the allegations against the chair of TNG, told the Chronicle that the lawsuit was resolved “amicably” and she “voluntarily dismissed the case” wishing the company and the chair “continued success.”
When the Q&A session of this Title IX discussion began, Peter Reed, the Faculty Senate Chair, asked about the public data reports that Title IX could put forward and what the timeline for those will look like.
Edmonson responded by asking what kind of data they want, saying she can disclose information that is not confidential to be accessed; this includes when cases open, the number of cases that are currently active, how many cases are coming in, whether they involve faculty or students or staff, etc. Edmonson also noted that this data can help to show President Sandoval where the problems are at.
Todd Reucker, a faculty senator for the College of Liberal Arts also asked about this data, wondering what were the results of violations found and whether people were being convicted in the investigations or not. Edmonson said displaying the numbers is possible, but names will not be disclosed.
Currently, Title IX has displayed these statistics on their page in a few pie charts and percentages. The office currently has 43 open reports as of Oct. 31 and 23 were received in Oct. 2023. Edmonson said she was hoping for a dashboard by the beginning of spring semester. The data was released in early November, long before the expected date.
Lyndsay Munro, a faculty senator for the College of Science, asked what their top priorities of reform are in the office of Title IX. Edmonson told the group the focus is on building her staff and stabilizing the office.
Louis Niebur, a faculty senator for the College of Liberal Arts, said he received 15 to 20 questions regarding the “mysterious email” that Brian Sandoval, the president of the university, sent out regarding Title IX and asked how he should respond to these questions.
Edmonson asks if what they are looking for is more communication; Niebur says they do, but reiterates that her “hands are tied” because most of their information is confidential and he’s unsure of how she’s supposed to communicate with them about the things they have concerns about.
He also added some people who were aware of the protest and media coverage understood why there was an email, but others who didn’t know are unsure of what the email was regarding and are wondering what’s going on. Edmonson encouraged the senate to not speak to the media, but reaffirmed they cannot comment on any of the recent cases that spurred the complaints. She encouraged them to contact the communications department and her office if they receive media inquiries.
“It’s frustrating because it’s important that it’s out there, but I mostly want to make sure … you know that that’s what people are talking about, that it’s like the word around campus,” Niebur added, previously referring to news about recent Title IX cases. “People are a little wary and nervous because of that.”
Alissa Mortenson, a faculty senator on behalf of the provost’s division, explained she was nervous about the amount of data shared; if, for example, she said someone filed a report to Title IX about domestic violence and there is only one case open in domestic violence and they post it in their statistics, everyone may know who that person is anyways. Edmonson said she will take this into consideration on the dashboard since the information could be hurtful to that person.
Jean Jeon, a faculty senator for the College of Business asked if there is help for people who don’t understand the legality of the process, as well as if they see an issue with how the organizations are structured and developed. Edmonson gave an overview of the process: Title IX completes the investigation and then it goes to an independent decision maker. She said another goal they have is to provide training to Jeff Thompson, the executive vice president, and the provost and Darrell Lockhart, the vice provost for faculty affairs about Title IX responsibilities.
Sesh Commuri, a faculty senator for the College of Engineering, said if someone goes to faculty about these issues they are “fishing” for information and the faculty should cut the discussion off and refer them to a responsible party.
“This is gossip,” Commuri said. He said he needs to focus on the culture of his department and surroundings.
He added that he trusts Edmonson and the office to know what they’re doing. He told the table to not “propagate this nonsense” and said it’s not his place to discuss these matters even if he does know the right information. Edmonson agreed that faculty should not get involved and encouraged them to send questions and concerns to her.
Sandoval then approached the table to talk to faculty about Title IX, explaining again that it was his top priority and it’s very important to have the right leader in Title IX, which is why he says he hired Edmonson.
He also added that because of the protest at the groundbreaking for the new business building, it was important to send out some sort of communication to the campus, but it was a matter of timing as there were several things happening that week. He reiterated the Title IX statement was not meant to confuse and he released it the next day because he wanted it to have importance and stand by itself.
He also figured it was better to air on the side of communication with a statement in regards to Title IX and let the campus know what’s going on.
“If I don’t send out a communication, it’s like I’m avoiding the situation and not communicating,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval also said he invited Kenny Jacoby from USA Today to campus today and has given him all the information that he has requested with the exception of what is needed to protect identities. The data which Sandoval was referring to was in regards to Jacoby’s previous USA Today article, including UNR as one of the six universities that kept Title IX sexual misconduct data a “secret.”
“This is fully transparent and all I want … is this to be a fully-functioning office that works for everyone,” Sandoval said. “This doesn’t happen overnight unfortunately, but I really do feel from the bottom of my heart that we are on the right path now with [Edmonson].”
He also reiterates that the 72-hour response time promised by Edmonson will be upheld and that response times will most likely come sooner than that.
“When [Edmonson] came in, she did a deep dive into the [Title IX] office and there were some things happening that we didn’t know about. And so we’ve provided extra resources to get that done,” Sandoval added. “That was part of the problem with the office before, it was getting everything [that did not reach Title IX level requirements].”
Sandoval also adds that everyone is entitled to due process and it’s important that all people have “a right to be heard,” but that the university cannot pick sides in a lawsuit.
“There’s a case that’s gotten a lot of attention, but it’s litigation. We don’t comment on pending litigation,” Sandoval said.
Commuri, senator for the College of Engineering also added a comment after his speech, telling Sandoval he liked the way he handled the demonstrators that came out “even though that was not the right time or place.”
There was also a question about the process and whether Title IX is independent from the provost or president’s office, but Sandoval confirmed that Edmonson has her own authority.
Reucker, another senator, also mentioned the Feifei Fan case specifically, explaining that he knows people feel “uncomfortable sharing their thoughts” about possible retaliation in departments at the university.
After discussing the update on Jacoby and the information they’re providing him, Sandoval said, “I don’t want any negative press about this campus and the truth is some things had been neglected for a very long time and suppose we’re going to be having this budget conversation in a moment, but these are part of the things we have to balance campus wide. These things with regard to Title IX needed attention and needed attention now.”
Hiring freeze discussion
Andrew Clinger, the vice president for administration and finance, discussed the fiscal year 2024 budget, explaining they requested all departments to give 5% state reduction plans.
He also said there are currently 108 vacant positions and potentially more to be discovered which are all currently frozen due to the university’s 21 million dollar shortfall in the budget.
When asked about the new business building’s funding and why it isn’t being redirected towards funding for the cost-of-living-adjustment increase, Sandoval said there are no state funds for the business building and they had already established the business building bonds before the COLA issues came up. If they had waited to build it, the price would go up and that the building is essential to attract personnel to the university.
If the full 11 percent of the COLA is funded, they will consider raising student fees with a temporary fee increase on tuition or potentially delay the COLA, which he doesn’t believe would happen because faculty wants the full 11 percent, adding that he thinks they deserve it.
Thompson, the provost of the university said they’ve done everything they can to not let this affect their students, but availability of electives and things will probably change.
Joshua Garn, a senator from the School of Public Health said some faculty may not want that big of a raise if that means these other “consequences.”
Faculty senators also asked about the cost of the Lake Tahoe campus and the impact it has on the budget. The UNR at Lake Tahoe campus was recently reported to have received zero enrollment in its first open semester due to the teach-out of former Sierra Nevada University students.
Sandoval confirmed that during the wintermester, there will be UNR students on the Lake Tahoe campus and that because they changed food vendors, it’s costing the university more, even though the campus was donated to UNR. Sandoval tells the table that they expect to have more students up there which should even out the financials.
Thompson, the provost, also added the university had to make investments to the infrastructure to make sure the campus is up to university standards.
More information about the freeze and budget deficit can be found here.
To read the draft minutes not reported on by The Nevada Sagebrush click here.
Jaedyn Young can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.