Lawyers for accused students upset by ‘preferred qualification’
The University of Texas rushed to remove a preference for job candidates with a “commitment to social justice” after an alumnus criticized the job posting for Title IX investigator.
A spokesperson for the taxpayer-funded institution told The College Fix the posting had already been flagged by the dean of students before it drew attention from Mark Pulliam, who runs the Facebook page “Stop the Insanity at UT.”
The position in the Office of the Dean of Students, which has funding for three years, is responsible for investigating “alleged student misconduct and specifically Title IX complaints,” including allegations of sexual misconduct, stalking and sex discrimination.
The investigator also trains the “community on Title IX and investigation processes,” including “ongoing professional development trainings,” and interprets university policies and “federal laws and guidance related to Title IX administration.”
Under a lengthy list of “preferred qualifications,” the original posting reads: “Commitment to social justice issues and a demonstrated background working with diverse groups of students, faculty, staff, and/or parents.” It is the only “commitment” the university requests of applicants.
UT’s revised posting still mentions “social justice issues” but now simply prefers candidates with “knowledge” of such issues.
Lawyers who represent accused students told The Fix they were concerned about the language in the original job posting, warning that it could introduce bias in Title IX proceedings.
Warshaw Burstein partner Kimberly Lau (left) said that the initial post implied the school is “less interested in uncovering the objective truth and more interested in assuming the guilt of the individuals they are tasked with investigating and punishing them.”
The posting undermines the “goal of being 100% neutral and unbiased” in Title IX procedures, said lawyer Deborah Gordon. She added that she would not want her clients adjudicated by Title IX staff who have made such a commitment to get hired.
The posting shows no “desire to hire investigators interested in seeking the truth while treating all students fairly and equitably,” said Rosenberg & Ball Co. LPA partner Eric Rosenberg.
It’s not the first public university to suggest it gives preference to job applicants with certain ideological commitments.
A “Diversity Plan” used by the University of Georgia’s Office of the Registrar said it preferred job applicants with “a commitment to promoting and enhancing diversity.” It removed that web page after The Fix asked about similar diversity wording in psychology department and graduate school job postings.
‘We don’t want to hire people based on anyone specific set of beliefs’
Pulliam highlighted the “social justice” preference in a March 3 post, noting the posting didn’t ask for applicants with a commitment to “impartiality,” “neutrality” or “mature judgment and lack of bias. Only [social justice warriors] need apply.”
The posting raises the question of whether Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s “hand-picked Board of Regents” is exercising appropriate oversight, he continued.
Abbott signed a bill into law last year that includes criminal penalties for university employees who fail to report “sex-based” speech that is “unwelcome.” UT President Greg Fenves recently told the community faculty would undergo “mandatory training” on the requirements of SB 212, including the mandatory reporting provision.
Pulliam declined to identify the source who showed him the job posting. He would only tell The Fix that the person has since reached out to the state auditor to claim that UT is violating Texas law by “using political beliefs as a factor in hiring student affairs personnel.”
Director of Media Relations J.B. Bird said he had not heard about posting’s language until The Fix’s query March 3. But after checking, he said Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly had already noticed the wording and immediately asked for corrections before The Fix emailed.
In a phone call, Bird thanked The Fix for asking about the posting’s language, calling it “inaccurate” and “inelegant.” He affirmed that candidates who are committed to due process in Title IX proceedings – and view current standards as inadequate – would not be disadvantaged in the hiring process.
“We don’t want to hire people based on anyone specific set of beliefs,” he said. Asked if candidates who do not support social justice would receive the same opportunity, he said they “absolutely” would.
But Bird defended the revised language preferring candidates with a “knowledge” of social justice, considering the political diversity of the campus. Pulliam wasn’t convinced, telling The Fix social justice is “still irrelevant” to the job.
Bird twice declined to answer a specific Fix request for the name of the person who screened the posting before it went up. He also didn’t say how Reagins-Lilly, the dean of students, came to notice the “commitment” language in the posting.
“Job postings are screened by the managers who post them at the unit level working with their unit’s HR manager or liaison,” he said in an email. That suggests it was initially reviewed by Dean Kruse, who directs three Title IX investigators.
“In this case, the inaccurate sentence made it through that process, but when the university leader who oversees the unit (the vice president of student affairs and dean of students) saw the posting, she asked them to correct the wording right away,” Bird wrote.
While Bird said March 3 the hiring manager for the job was already fixing the posting, the wording did not change that day. Archives of the page show that it was updated between the evenings of March 3 and March 5. (Archive.Today uses Coordinated Universal Time, which is six hours ahead of Central Standard Time.)
Wording ‘appears to be encouraging a desired outcome’
Title IX investigators that Lau has worked with on behalf of accused students have not explicitly admitted allegiance to social justice causes, the lawyer told The Fix.
But she said that some investigators were “clearly leaning that way,” judging by the questions they ask. “The way to deal with these situations is to remind the investigators of their obligation to remain objective and call them out when their conduct or line of questioning are inappropriate,” Lau wrote in an email.
Lawyer Gordon, who represented the victorious accused student in a major appeals court ruling, said it was “not the role of the state government to require anyone to have a commitment to any general social policy in order to obtain employment.”
The university should stick with requiring applicants to pledge to “follow the law and university policy,” while also removing nebulous terms such as “social justice,” she wrote in an email. That wording “appears to be encouraging a desired outcome that should be reached.”
Gordon is also not thrilled with the revised wording of the job posting. It is “also not good, although it is better,” she said: “The implication remains.”
IMAGE: University of Texas-Austin screenshot