DiStefano says settling claim key to moving ahead on Title IX issues

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CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano today announced that CU-Boulder’s settlement with a female graduate student in the philosophy department was not only “the right thing to do,” but is part of a series of actions to move the campus ahead on sexual misconduct and Title IX issues.

DiStefano made the announcement to the campus via a video statement (see embedded video in this story). 

The university reached the $825,000 settlement with the student who claimed to have been retaliated against by a tenured male philosophy professor. She alleged that retaliation was retribution for a sexual misconduct complaint she filed against another male philosophy instructor at an off-campus party in 2012. 

“A young woman’s life was turned upside down and her education suffered serious interruptions. I wanted to ensure we responded quickly to help her set her life back on course,” DiStefano said. “We settled her claim because it was the right thing to do.”

The chancellor said he was pleased that despite the trauma, the young woman was continuing her education as a Ph.D. student in CU-Boulder’s philosophy department.

A statement released by the student’s attorneys, Lisa J. Banks and Debra S. Katz of the firm Katz, Marshall & Banks of Washington, D.C., praised the university’s handling of the settlement and the approach it is taking to manage Title IX, sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.

“CU-Boulder’s administration has demonstrated responsible leadership and has taken important steps to ensure that our client and others like her will not have to endure a sexually hostile academic environment,” the statement read. “We would not have recommended to our client that she continue her studies at CU-Boulder unless we believed that the university's commitment was both sincere and meaningful.

In a companion settlement statement issued by the university, DiStefano echoed comments he offered in the video to the campus.

“We must honor her trust by ensuring not only that she has every opportunity to succeed, but also by taking the steps that will enable every student to thrive in a community free from discrimination and harassment,” he said in the statement.

In his video message, DiStefano said the contract of the instructor who had subjected the female graduate student to unwanted sexual contact was not renewed. DiStefano also said he took the “serious step of serving the tenured faculty member in question with a notice of intent to dismiss.”

“This action triggers a Regents-mandated process, which allows any tenured faculty member who faces dismissal to request a hearing. Those confidential proceedings are commencing,” he said.

He praised the efforts of current philosophy department faculty and chair Andy Cowell for working together to make “positive change” in the department.

DiStefano said both the disciplinary actions he authorized and the settlement with the female graduate student were actions consistent with his “top priority” of transforming the culture on campus into one absent of sexual assault and harassment.

He cited the hiring of Valerie Simons as the campus’s Title IX coordinator – with a direct reporting line to him and oversight for all Title IX investigations – as more evidence of his commitment. He said more steps to change the culture would be forthcoming.

“The provost, Boulder Faculty Assembly and student government will jointly host a series of symposia regarding campus climate during the fall semester,” he said.

DiStefano told CU-Boulder Today that “we have good people working on this issue every day, and the overwhelming majority of our faculty, staff and students embrace the policies regarding Title IX issues.”

Building on these efforts, he said, requires more work to be done.

“Let there be no misunderstanding: My goal is to change the culture here on campus for good. I expect CU-Boulder’s faculty, staff and students to actively join in this effort, taking personal responsibility for creating a safe and inclusive campus,” he said. 

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