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UNC Draws Criticism for Choice in Sexual Assault Response Leader

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill drew criticism for appointing an Education Department official to head up its response to sexual assault, the subject of three federal reviews this year.

Howard Kallem, the Education Department’s chief regional attorney in Washington for the Office for Civil Rights, will become UNC’s Title IX coordinator in January, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based school said Friday. He will oversee UNC’s compliance with Title IX, the law that bars gender-based discrimination in education, including inadequate response to campus assaults.

The Office for Civil Rights is conducting the reviews focusing on UNC’s own investigations and reporting of sexual assaults. Choosing Kallem suggests that the school is more interested in protecting itself from federal sanctions than supporting assault victims, said Andrea Pino, a UNC student who helped form a national network of college women fighting campus sexual assaults.

“The university may be putting too much emphasis on compliance and what looks good, rather than folks who have experience with survivors,” Pino said in a telephone interview. “What you need is the help to get you to the rest of your life.”

Kallem, who will manage campus-wide Title IX outreach programs, is a “recognized expert in Title IX compliance,” said Brenda Richardson Malone, UNC’s vice chancellor of human resources.

‘First Priority’

A “first priority” will be listening to and learning from people throughout UNC about their concerns, Kallem said in a statement. His appointment as full-time Title IX coordinator, a position that many schools don’t have, shows UNC’s commitment to student safety and support, he said.

“Together, the team will develop strategies to provide education, student engagement, programming, prevention and compliance,” he said.

Colleges across the U.S. are under heightened scrutiny for failures to adequately address sexual violence and harassment. Women at schools including UNC; Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; Occidental College and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles; Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania; and the University of Connecticut in Storrs have filed formal complaints with the Education Department saying they were denied equal access to education because their schools mishandled or ignored reports of sexual assault.

Seeking Support

Pino, who visits colleges across the country to connect sexual-assault survivors with campus resources, said many universities are too focused on how to comply with federal regulations when most survivors just want enough support to graduate.

Schools that fail to comply with Title IX may face fines and loss of federal student financial aid eligibility.

“Universities are so focused on this compliance mentality,” Pino said. “Universities are simply trying to avoid legal complaints.”

Someone with a strong background in Title IX compliance was needed to fill the position, Susan Hudson, a UNC spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

To contact the reporters on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net; Jennifer Surane in Chapel Hill at jennifersurane@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net

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