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The University of Michigan’s Office for Institutional Equity has undergone a number of operational changes this summer, including naming Elizabeth Seney as the University’s Title IX coordinator. Seney served as the interim Title IX coordinator and currently works as the senior associate director for OIE. Historically, the Title IX coordinator has had the power to make the final call as to whether students will be found guilty of sexual misconduct.
Additional changes include OIE reporting directly to Provost Martin Philbert instead of the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and University Human Resources and the formulation of a new database and case-management system to streamline OIE processes.
The department will also relaunch the search for a new senior director for OIE with asearch advisory committee led by Christine Gerdes, special counsel to the Provost. Currently, Jeff Frumkin serves as the interim senior OIE Director.
The changes to OIE — the office responsible for investigating sexual misconduct reports, Title IX violations and institutional bias, among other incidents — were implemented with the hope of improving operations and speeding up investigations after facing public criticism over the last academic year.
In Sept. 2018, OIE had to alter its sexual misconduct policy to include an in-person hearing between the accuser and the accused after a Sixth Circuit Court ruling. There were also complaints regarding lengthy and inefficient OIE reporting processes.
One of OIE’s main goals is handling complaints as equitably as possible, Seney said in a sit-down interview with The Daily in April.
“I would say the overarching mission really is to make sure that the University is responding fairly and appropriately to concerns that exist,” Seney said. “Then, of course, we also have a role in preventive and educational work as well. So, I wouldn't limit our overall mission to just responding to particular concerns, but I would say that is where we spend a lot of time and effort and that’s a significant priority.”
Seney also spoke about OIE’s priorities with regards to investigations in the April interview. She noted how the department is tasked with dealing with reports efficiently and ensuring the safety of everyone on campus.
“I would say our priority of course is always to address all of the matters,” Seney said. “And as quickly as possible, which is difficult to do, especially as we’ve had really significant increases over the last couple of years and the number of reports that we’ve received, and to do them in that fair and appropriate way, make sure that people are supported.”
A public health junior, who has chosen to remain anonymous due to ongoing legal action surrounding her case, went through a Title IX investigation last year. She said Seney didn’t work directly with her case but interacted with her throughout the process of the investigation. Given how she said her situation was handled, the junior was upset to learn Seney had been named Title IX coordinator.
“Basically, she completely disregarded how we were feeling and didn’t take us seriously for a second,” she said. “I’m not very happy that she’s the Title IX coordinator.”
The Public Health junior said OIE’s processes were not as fair as Seney had described them to be in the April interview.
“Seney, OIE and the University as a whole (have) taught me throughout this process that they don’t care about the claimants getting justice or even having fair investigations or fair hearings,” she said. “All they only care about is not getting sued, and doing whatever it takes not to get sued.”
Nevertheless, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald commended Seney’s past work with OIE and expressed support for her new position.
“Elizabeth Seney has served our university community very well as deputy Title IX coordinator and as interim Title IX coordinator,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily. “It was clear she was the best candidate for this important leadership position within OIE.”