The University of Colorado has hired former federal civil rights attorney Valerie Simons as Title IX coordinator for the Boulder campus, a new position created based on the recommendation of an independent review completed earlier this spring.
That review was commissioned by the campus after it learned it was being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. The federal investigation, which is ongoing, was launched when a student filed a complaint alleging the university violated Title IX, the federal gender equity law, in the handling of her sexual assault case.
The independent review, conducted at CU's request by the law firm Pepper Hamilton, found that the campus was fully compliant with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Simons, an education and civil rights lawyer, will report directly to Chancellor Phil DiStefano. Her official title is director of institutional equity and compliance, which includes oversight for all discrimination complaints made to the Office of Student Conduct and Office of Discrimination and Harassment.
She starts July 22 and will be paid $150,000 per year, campus spokesman Ryan Huff said .
"I was honored, honestly," Simons said of CU's decision. "This is a really unique opportunity. It fits well with my background and I think CU has taken a lot of progressive steps in this area."
"There's challenges, and I know that and they know that and they've owned it, and I think if they hadn't, I wouldn't have accepted the job."
Huff said the university is "delighted" Simons accepted the job, which will allow the campus to expand prevention and education efforts around discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual assault.
"She's very familiar with all aspects of Title IX investigations," he said. "She's also very passionate and dedicated to ensuring equity and compliance and ensuring that we investigate cases properly."
The 'other side'
Her experience includes founding the Education Law Group of Colorado, a law firm representing students and parents in federal civil rights matters.
She also served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Education Section, where she was the lead attorney in charge of enforcing Title IX and other civil rights laws around the U.S.
Simons acknowledged that working for a university is different than representing students and their parents.
But, in many ways, while she's on the "other side," Simons said students, parents, schools and the government all want the same thing — equity and inclusion.
"Civil rights enforcement is protecting students, faculty and staff, and it's making sure that we follow the same civil rights laws," she said. "It doesn't matter what side you're on. They're the same laws. We're all trying to get there. Sometimes there's a difference in how we get there."
The university is currently facing two federal investigations. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the campus for its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the U.S. Department of Education is looking into CU's compliance with Title IX.
In late February, the university settled with Sarah Gilchriese, the undergraduate student who filed the Title IX complaint with the education department.
Under the settlement, which does not constitute an admission of liability or fault, CU paid Gilchriese $32,500.
The U.S. Department of Justice investigation began after students with visual impairments complained that they were unable to access many online portals, online textbooks, campus signs and other technologies.
Both investigations are ongoing, campus officials said.
Simons said she doesn't know enough to be able to comment on either investigation, though she said she will work to increase trust in her office on campus.
She said she wants her position to be visible to students, faculty and staff.
"There's been a level of trust that has been built, but I think there needs to be more," she said. "I would firmly agree that more trust needs to be built and I want to be part of that process. I want to be there to build the trust, the confidence, that this is going to be a strong environment for equity and compliance for all protected classes."