By Stephen Neukam
Rider has retained a third-party investigator to field formal complaints from students, alumni, faculty and staff in the School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA) stemming from bombshell allegations of sexual harassment, racism, inappropriate relationships and widespread body-shaming brought forward by students over the past few months, according to top university officials.
The investigation is a possible precursor to Title IX investigations.
The firm, TNG Consulting, specializes in external investigation services and will conduct what university officials termed an “intake process” to sift through potential allegations from current students and alumni that have graduated in the last five years.
The process is in response to more than 120 complaints of misconduct against faculty in SFPA from students and alumni of the program. The allegations were so voluminous that they culminated in a 44-page document of anonymous complaints.
Vice President for Human Resources and Affirmative Action and Title IX Coordinator Robert Stoto said the process was unusual but explained that it was being used, given the number of complaints and the anonymity of the accusers.
The firm will accept feedback until Nov. 6, according to an email to SFPA students and alumni. The consultants will produce a report for the administration, which will decide whether to pursue any formal investigations, according to Stoto.
Stoto and Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen refused to disclose the cost of the firm’s investigation.
Student Government Association President Dylan Erdelyi, a senior musical theater major, said that he was hopeful that the process would help rectify some of the allegations brought forth.
“I am hopeful that this will be a much-needed step toward resolving these issues that have gone unimpeded for too long,” said Erdelyi.
While a formal Title IX investigation has not been opened, there have been concerns raised nationally about the recently-changed Title IX guidelines that may make it harder for accusers to come forward and present a successful case.
In August, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled new rules that narrowed the definition of sexual misconduct, a change that critics say will make it harder to charge the accused. Stoto said that the policy has been the subject of national debate and that the university has adjusted to incorporate the new guidelines.
“We have given a lot of thought and time and energy to understanding the impact of these guidelines,” said Stoto. “We have revised [our guidelines].”
Rider’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors President Arthur Taylor, a professor in the Information Systems, Analytics and Supply Chain Management Department, said that the union is prepared to represent faculty if an investigation materializes.
“The AAUP continues to ask our members who have been accused to follow the university’s defined process for determining the validity of such allegations,” said Taylor. “Should the investigation of the allegations lead to any proposed actions against our members, we would provide representation as the agent of the faculty.”
Caption: TNG Consulting, the third-party investigating firm, will conduct an “intake process,” which entails sifting through potential allegations made by students.