New student fee proposed to fund UMD Title IX office that handles sexual assault investigations

The University of Maryland is considering a new student fee to help fund its Title IX office that handles investigations of sexual assaults and civil rights complaints at the university.

A.J. Pruitt, the vice president of the Student Government Association's student affairs, drafted the proposal for this proposed $34 annual fee for students. While he said it is not ideal for students to have to pay for it, there is not enough funding for the university's Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct.

"There is frustration because there shouldn't be a fee associated with going to a campus that is free of sexual misconduct or that investigates sexual misconduct in a prompt and efficient manner," said Pruitt.

The proposed fee for students would kick in the fall of 2017. If approved, it would generate close to $1 million for the Title IX office.

About $670,000 would go mainly toward hiring new employees while the rest will go to operating costs such online student training and educational campaigns.

The Title IX office is not just in charge of investigating reports of sexual assaults and civil rights violations, but it is also tasked with preventing them. However, the office is barely keeping up with the investigation portion.

Data shows in the 2014-15 school year, there were 112 reports of sexual misconduct. Of those, 48 resulted in formal complaints. But only 18 were investigated.

The following school year, the numbers jumped to 184 reports. Only 29 of the 61 formal complaints were investigated.

Another concern is the length of these investigations.

"The current university standard, which is outlined in the code of sexual misconduct, states that an investigation resolution should be reached in 60 business days," Pruitt said. "Right now, it's taking an average of 140 days."

Catherine Carroll, the director of the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, wrote an op-ed that says in part:

"The university has funded the office since its inception in 2014. Each subsequent year, the funding has increased, and now the office has a current budget of just over $1 million. However, reports of sexual misconduct and the number of investigations continue to increase, likely the result of increased awareness and outreach. Additional resources are needed to properly handle our growing caseload and - critically - to expand education and prevention efforts across the campus."

The University of Maryland currently provides $1 million in funding to the Title IX office. The proposed fee would about double those funds. There are still several steps that need to be taken before the fee becomes official, including approval by the university president and Board of Regents. But it is very likely that the fee will be approved.

Last year, the University of Maryland approved the sale of beer at school football games and said the money would go towards resources for sexual assaults. However, the money from these sales does not go towards the Title IX office, but to the University Health Center's CARE to Stop Violence program, which provides resources to sexual assault victims after the fact. Also, the beer sales did not generate as much money as expected in the first year, in part, because of the huge startup costs.