A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

David Armstrong: Thomas More College to host compliance conference amid changing landscape

During the last two administrations, the U.S government began to oversee our nation’s universities with the same rigor it has applied to banking, securities, healthcare, and other highly regulated sectors.

Colleges are now increasingly accountable to a federal bureaucracy for, among other duties, promoting campus safety and assuring equal access to education for persons with disabilities. The onus of complying with federal mandates while maintaining affordable tuition has put a strain on American higher education, and smaller, private schools like mine in particular.

In addition to this dilemma, a new presidency has left colleges uncertain whether the government will advance its role in compliance enforcement or roll it back in favor of a state-based, decentralized approach.

As Peter Lake, a Title IX expert at Stetson University, recently told The Chronicle of Higher Education, “We’re building houses on the San Andreas fault line.”

Throughout my career, I have striven to insure that small, faith-based schools survive and thrive in the new age of compliance. Now I want to prevent other colleges from enduring the predicaments that I have.

While I was dean of admissions at Notre Dame College, the school became ground zero for the confluence of Title IX sexual assault policy and Clery Act disclosure requirements. I found myself navigating judicial proceedings and a federal investigation, eventually establishing a procedure for adjudicating assault cases — an achievement that led Russlynn Ali, former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, to dub Notre Dame one of the “true heroes of Title IX.”

Yet lightning can strike twice. At Thomas More College, where I now serve as president, we faced the loss of a national NCAA title due to the misinterpretation of a rule. Though I acknowledge that TMC needed to improve, I fought successfully for the NCAA to drop a charge of unethical conduct.

At Thomas More, our mission calls on everyone in our community to recognize their responsibility to others. In order to assist all colleges in their compliance endeavors, and especially those smaller institutions with limited financial resources, Thomas More has founded the Institute for Higher Education Compliance.

The Institute will host a one-day conference on TMC’s campus on Tuesday, July 18, where legal experts and college officials will gather in an atmosphere of collaboration centered on the Institute’s four pillars:

– The education of college professionals on the challenges associated with compliance

– A comprehensive survey of relevant topics, including Title IX, accreditation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and athletic compliance

– The importance of developing a culture of compliance with emphasis on the hurdles facing smaller schools

– The responsibility of all college stakeholders
to focus on student welfare in their pursuit of compliance.

The conference will include a Presidents Panel that features current presidents from institutions such as Gateway Community and Technical College and Eureka College, discussing the latest points of conflict facing campuses across the country. Former Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry will moderate the panel and also present on how to craft and implement an effective Title IX policy.

We are fortunate and honored to have the two most sought-after Title IX policy and procedure experts in the nation as our main sponsors and keynote speakers.

Leslie M. Gomez and Gina Maisto Smith, from Cozen O’Connor law firm in Philadelphia, are seasoned professionals with experience that ranges from prosecuting crimes to advising universities on sexual misconduct policies. Their backgrounds will provide attendees with the insights needed to appraise the compliance environment at their own institutions.

I invite you and your colleagues to join me for the conference. To RSVP, please go to https://www.thomasmore.edu/IHEC/. I believe this gathering will foster the collaborative spirit we need to see in the world of higher education—because the path to compliance begin with us.

David Armstrong is president of Thomas More College.

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