Board of Trustees discusses potential Title IX changes

The Framingham State Board of Trustees heard about faculty concerns and potential changes to Title IX policies during its meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 28. 

The Board began by welcoming new trustee Hope Bielat, who has a master’s in public policy from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in political science from Boston University. 

“I’m really excited to be a part of this board. I really believe in the mission of this school,” Bielat said, “so, thank you.”

Eric Gustafson, vice president of development and alumni relations, updated the Board on the University’s fundraising progress. He said they have raised “just about” $1.2 million this academic year toward their $2.5 million goal and are expecting a “nice burst” in giving for the month of December. 

Gustafson also said the University is finalizing the details for a “scientific equipment gift.”

He added, “We’ve built a connection with a local company that’s going to hopefully donate brand-new scientific equipment to us. … They have equipment that’s barely used that comes offline and it’s in great condition to come over here and be something that we have in our labs.”  

Later in the meeting, Kim Dexter, director of Equal Opportunity, Title IX, and ADA compliance, and Meg Nowak Borrego, dean of students, presented about changes to the Title IX guidelines that could be brought about by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. 

Title IX is a federal law that requires colleges and universities receiving state federal funding to combat sex-based discrimination, harassment, and violence. Title IX guidelines outline how sexual assault cases are handled on college campuses.   

Nowak Borrego said Devos has “asserted that there is a lack of due process for respondents – the person being claimed as responsible for assaulting another person. I can say that most people who work in this area of higher ed disagree with that assertion.” 

In 2017, DeVos issued new Title IX guidance that had “minor” and “manageable” changes, according to Dexter and Nowak Borrego. 

Nowak Borrego added, “A lot of our campuses were already doing it.” 

But a few weeks ago, said Nowak Borrego, they received a 140-page document from the Department of Education outlining changes that “are significant.” The document has not yet been formally released, but when it is, colleges and universities will have 60 days to comment and potentially impact the ultimate outcome.  

Dexter said this document signals a “major shift in all of our procedures and responses” to sexual assault cases on campuses. The most significant change would be a move from a single-investigator model for handling sexual assault cases to a hearing format with required cross-examinations, “creating a very courtroom-like atmosphere in a university setting.” 

This shift could require additional staffing and training. 

Dexter said, “With all these changes that are occurring, know that we’re on top of it. We’re monitoring it closely. We have teams of folks here who are making sure that we don’t let anything slip through the cracks.”  

Irene Porro, director of the Christa McAuliffe Center, introduced Alexis Gomez during the meeting’s Student Spotlight. Gomez studies graphic design and works as an intern for the Christa McAuliffe Center. 

Gomez shared stories from an academic trip abroad, passed out examples of design work he has completed for the center, and thanked Porro for “molding me into a professional.” 

Later in the meeting, Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs, gave a presentation titled “Budgets, Enrollment, and Curricular Considerations” about using data to increase enrollment and revenue. She discussed how combining data about the different majors with strategic planning can “determine the best ways to invest” in the curriculum. 

Following this, Jeremy Spencer, dean of enrollment management, explained the process of hiring a “predictive analytics vendor.” 

He said Enrollment Management is looking to work with a vendor to create an “adaptive model” that will let them track students from application to matriculation in order to determine what “flips” a potential student – that is, what makes a student decide to attend Framingham State. 

They hope using this model will allow them to accurately predict the University’s final matriculation numbers based on the characteristics of the pool of applicants they have in the spring, Spencer added. 

They also want to evaluate how changes in the amount of financial aid offered to students over time might be affecting the number of students choosing to enroll in the University, said Spencer. 

Spencer said in 2011, if the FAFSA determined that a student’s expected family contribution was $0 and the student accepted all loans and gift aid offered to them, then the direct cost for that student to attend the University would be as a close as possible to $0. 

“Fast forward to the present, that same student takes out all aid and they’re given a bill of roughly $4,800,” Spencer said. 

He added they want a vendor to evaluate whether this is affecting enrollment because “we could make some assumptions, but we don’t want those assumptions to be faulty.” 

He said with all this information, the University can take a “rifling approach versus a shotgun approach” to enrollment that maximizes the use of their resources. 

The Board approved a resolution to allow the University to borrow up to $1.455 million to fund its contribution to the $5.8 million project to update campus infrastructure. The commonwealth of Massachusetts has already agreed to fund $4.3 million of the project, which will include electrical work, heating and cooling overhauls, and other tasks.   

During public comments, Robert Donohue, FSU psychology professor and president of the Framingham State chapter of the Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA), said he had come to inform the Board of “a serious impediment to Framingham State fulfilling its mission.” 

The MSCA is the union for faculty and librarians at state universities and colleges. As employees of the state, they bargain their three-year contract with the Board of Higher Education (BHE). The Council of University Presidents (COP), of which FSU President F. Javier Cevallos is a member, also participates in the bargaining.

After a prolonged bargaining period, the parties came to an agreement in the spring, almost a year after the previous contract had expired. The commissioner of the BHE has yet to send the contract to the governor for approval, though it was legally due by Aug. 15.

Donohue said, “The commissioner of the Board of Higher Education and the Council of State University Presidents are requesting that I and the Massachusetts State College Association be complicit in the violation of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 150E, section 7.”  

He added, “My request to this board is that you stand on the side of rule of law. I ask the Board to direct President Cevallos to publicly reject the Council of Presidents’ official position placing the commissioner of the Board of Higher Education above the law.

“What model of responsible citizenship do we provide our students by rejecting rule of law?” he added.

Cevallos, speaking about the remarks after the meeting, said, “I sent a letter to the campus community about this a few days ago. … That letter has everything that I can add.” 

In the letter, Cevallos said the COP supports the contract as it was negotiated, but the commissioner has determined that it cannot be funded sustainably. He added, “I will continue to do everything I can to reach an agreement that will be funded by the state.” 

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