Thursday, July 21, 2016

Alumni Advisors as Mandated Reporters

As I travel and speak with my colleagues in fraternity/sorority advising, I am frequently asked questions about the intersection of Title IX and fraternities and sororities. In the last year, I’ve noted an alarming trend – more and more campuses are naming non-employee student organization advisors as Campus Security Authorities (i.e. mandated reporters of sexual violence). The rationale for this movement is to increase reporting of sexual violence, and by making alumnus advisors mandated reporters, so the thinking goes, institutions may learn about incidents of sexual violence about which they may not otherwise learn.

Generally speaking, most fraternities and sororities, in addition to an on-campus or faculty advisor, will have a host of alumni members who serve in a variety of advisory roles. Some chapters may have a singular alumnus advisor, some may have an advisory board containing multiple advisors providing general oversight to the chapter, and some may have advisors assigned to particular chapter officers (i.e. new member education advisor, recruitment advisor, etc). These advisors may or may not be alumni of the institution, but very few are actually employed by the institutions themselves.

Requiring alumni, non-employee advisors to serve as CSA’s is not a good idea for three reasons:

1.    Lack of accountability – The premise behind a “Responsible Employee” or a “Campus Security Authority” is based on accountability. If an employee fails to meet their responsibility as a mandated reporter, the institution has some recourse to address that behavior. For a non-employee, this is not possible. The institution has no recourse if it finds that a non-employee has not fulfilled their mandatory reporting requirements. This unenforceable policy exposes the institution to increased liability. In addition, because of the variety of advisory structures and roles, it may be difficult to clearly delineate which advisors are CSA’s and which are not (i.e. an alumna/mother of an active member who serves as an assistant recruitment advisor and is only around the house during formal recruitment – CSA, or not a CSA?).

2.    Conflict of interest – in many cases, an organizational advisor may be a trusted, confidential source of support for a member of the organization. This is especially true for sorority members. If a sorority member is assaulted, a mandated reporter policy would place the advisor in a conflicted position – unable to serve her role as confidential advisor to the student because of her reporting requirements.

3.    Burden on chapter to recruit advisors – Chapters have a hard enough time recruiting and retaining good chapter advisors, and we know that a strong advisory team is a strong predictor of a chapter’s success and positive organizational culture. Adding mandated reporting requirements to advisors (which also places increased liability on them) makes it that much harder for chapters to recruit and retain alumni members to be involved with their chapters.

So how should we handle the issue of student organization advisors and mandated reporting? Many campuses are already requiring all registered student organizations to have an on-campus faculty or staff advisor. By definition, these individuals (as college/university employees) are CSA’s as defined by Clery, and should also be considered Responsible University Employees under Title IX. If you require organizations to have these on-campus faculty/staff advisors, they should be the mandated reporters. As institutional employees, they can be held accountable for these responsibilities, and their roles are often clearly distinguished form those of the alumni advisors.

These faculty advisors are actually valuable assets for a variety of reasons. In addition to being mandated reporters, they are also excellent channels for sharing information that may be FERPA protected and that could not be shared with non-employee advisors. Imagine, for example, that a member of a fraternity was accused of sexual assault and was placed on interim restriction from the campus. Imagine that the fraternity member lived in an off-campus fraternity house that was not covered in the interim restriction. How would we get this information to the organization without violating FERPA? Through the organization’s faculty advisor, who clearly has an educational need to know in this hypothetical situation, and could then pass along relevant information to others as necessary.

We have even heard of some campuses attempting to make student leaders (i.e. fraternity/sorority presidents) mandated reporters. Again, for all of the reasons outlined above, this is not a good idea. There are many ways we can increase reporting and make our campuses safer without extending our mandated reporting requirements beyond what is reasonable for us to enforce and in ways that create undue and often conflicting burdens on our student leaders and volunteers.