Dean of Students talks handling misconduct at College Democrats meeting

In the wake of sexual harassment allegations against a UMKC assistant softball coach, Dean of Students Dr. Sandra Miles initiated a meeting with the UMKC College Democrats Tuesday night to discuss ways the administration can be more proactive in situations involving allegations of misconduct.
Miles was accompanied by Associate Director of Affirmative Action and Title IX Coordinator Sybil Wyatt, as well as Director of Student Involvement Todd Wells.
Miles, who joined the university in her capacity last August, reached out to the College Democrats for an open forum after the organization published an open letter criticizing the university’s apparent inaction following sexual harassment allegations leveled against UMKC Assistant Softball Coach Greg Bachkora. These accusations have since been refuted by several current softball players.
President of UMKC College Democrats Izabella Vadovicky spoke about the importance of this meeting.
“Often times, these conversations about nasty business, or things that you don’t want to see on U-News, often happen behind closed doors,” Vadovicky said. “Having an open conversation and knowing that there are faculty and staff that will actually listen to the ideas of the students is awesome.”
Miles wanted to address the situation after The Kansas City Star publicized the allegations against Bachkora in a widely circulated article published earlier this month. These allegations follow a string of public controversies and scandals surrounding the university in recent years.
Miles expressed her regret that The Star’s article, like so many other negative articles about UMKC, has gained so much traction.
“It’s unfortunate that so many people jump to the conclusion that everything in The Star was 100 percent correct,” Miles stated. “But the reason people felt comfortable doing so was because there seems to have been consistent stories coming out about things happening at UMKC that have left a lot of people with a lack of trust.”

Dr. Miles (far-right) met with College Democrats after the organization released a statement aimed at university administration.

Miles later added, “We do want to be more reflective as to how we got to this point where the paper can pretty much print anything about UMKC, and everyone will believe it.”
A major criticism aimed at the university by many community members is that it does not seem the administration is doing enough to handle similar situations before they happen. Instead, it seems the university often waits until the situations receive bad press to take action.
“We’re now having a conversation about, ‘How will we move forward to be more proactive and not just react to every story that comes out?’” Miles said. “At some point, one of these stories is going to come out, and everything in the paper is going to be 100 percent true if we don’t make a shift.”
Miles acknowledged that while the university is doing everything it is currently supposed to be doing, there is clearly more that can be done to be more proactive in these situations.
“The first step is to review, ‘What are we doing?’” Miles said. “Because we have the required sexual harassment training, we can say, in terms of checking the boxes, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Miles said the university educates its faculty, students and staff about what constitutes misconduct and sexual harassment, “But there is still a disconnect between what we are telling people is the right thing to do and some decisions that are being made.”
Miles expressed her desire to create a clearer dialogue to ensure that students, faculty and staff are aware of what is expected of them in terms of conduct.
“There are some other things we can do to initiate a conversation when nothing is happening versus waiting until something happens,” Miles stated. “Because anything that happens after the fact is reactive, no matter how proactive we say we’re trying to be.”
UMKC has a lot of new administrative staff who arrived at the university after many of these controversies had already taken place.
“However business was done before, we are doing business differently,” said Miles.
Wyatt mentioned the chancellor and provost have a zero-tolerance policy.

“This chancellor and provost are very interactive with our offices, and they want to know what’s going on,” said Wyatt. “That communication is helpful because then, if my office will find any wrongdoing on the part of the faculty, then we can take action without feeling like our administrators don’t support us–which is huge.”

UMKC recently rolled out new collective rules and regulations of standards for faculty conduct, which, according to Wyatt, did not exist prior to the current provost being in her position.
“The two things that are most important are to make sure that students, and anyone else in our campus community, know where to go if they do have a problem,” said Wyatt. “Also, making sure that our faculty and staff know what our standards and expectations are.”
It may seem, at times, that the silence the community receives from the administration equates to inaction. However, Miles argued that is not the case.
“This part of the story that keeps coming up is this idea that because we aren’t publicly saying what is being done, that that means nothing is being done, and there are a lot of policies and laws that govern how much we can actually share with the public,” Miles explained. “We have to make sure that we’re doing what’s in the best interest of the entire institution, and unfortunately we cannot always say what that is.”
Miles addressed student concerns that the university does not do enough to handle student-related situations when they happen off campus.
“That is not my philosophy,” Miles said. “My philosophy is that my students are my students, wherever they are. There is now a philosophical difference of view in that I do feel like it is our responsibility to take care of our students.”
In regards to alleged Title IX misconduct, Wyatt said it does not matter where the incident occurred. As long as all parties are associated with the university, the incident can and will be investigated.

However, Wyatt stated that if the accused party is not affiliated with the institution, then the office does not have jurisdiction to investigate the situation. But it will do its best to provide resources to any victims.
“If you have been a victim of a crime off campus, we can offer you resources and assistance to make sure you get to classes and safety assistance,” Wyatt said. But unless the perpetrator is a student, we don’t really have the mechanisms to investigate or to handle that situation, so there is a differentiation there.”
According to Wyatt, the Office of Affirmative Action receives hundreds of complaints and reports every year, and every single individual named in those reports are contacted. UMKC has no time limit for when reports of misconduct can be filed, and the office will always do what it can to investigate all reports to the best of its ability.
“I would say 70-ish percent of the time, they either don’t respond, or they respond with ‘I’m not interested in an investigation,’” Wyatt explained. “We have to have people participate in our process as a requirement, under the law, in order for us to pursue any kind of investigation, unless we determine that the person who has been accused is such a great danger to the campus community that we can proceed with that investigation.”
After repeated blows to UMKC’s reputation by a series of highly publicized controversies, it seems as though there is going to be a major institutional and cultural shift throughout the university in terms of dealing with incidents of misconduct. Miles and Wyatt, both relatively new to their positions, seem determined to make a substantial change to the way the university handles these situations and ensure that all students feel safe and represented on campus.

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