Eight Things to Consider When Making Hard Decisions
January 31, 2020
Whether you are a Conduct director, a Human Resources professional, or a Title IX coordinator/investigator, your role requires you to make difficult decisions on a daily basis. Position descriptions do not adequately explain the pressure, the stress, the heartache, the headache, or the internal and external struggles that go into each investigation and adjudication. However, you are not alone in these challenges, and there are significant but simple measures you can take to make your life easier while providing a fair process for all parties.
Follow Your Policy
First, follow your policy. This may sound elementary, but simply using your policy as a roadmap provides for consistency and trustworthiness. Each step in the policy should be followed explicitly and documented to track its completion. If, for some reason, an unforeseen circumstance arises, and a decision is made outside of policy, that decision and rationale should be clearly documented. Consistently following your process allows for you to take comfort in knowing that you have delivered the expectations set forth by your institution/school system and, in turn, federal regulations and guidance.
Tracking your policy is made easier by creating and using a flowchart and/or checklist to visually explain your process and the specific actions that need to occur during each stage. For example, if your policy requires notice of the allegations for the respondent to include the standard of conduct/specific part of the policy that was allegedly violated, the date, time, and location of incident, the name of the reporting party, the right to have an advisor, a copy of the policy, and the date, time and location of the scheduled respondent meeting, you could use the following as the notice of allegations stage in your flow chart:
Creating a flow chart that adequately describes each phase of your process makes the process easier for you to follow and creates transparency for the parties going through your process.
Preserve the Evidence
Preserving evidence is critically important and must be completed as expeditiously as possible. When you receive a report, and your campus or school system has cameras, preserve any video footage that may provide information for a potential investigation. This is true for campus phone records, student ID card activity, or any other evidence that may be possible to preserve. If there is a chance that you will need the evidence, and you have the opportunity to preserve it, do so immediately. Using video or documented evidence will help tremendously as you move forward in your process and are tasked with making the difficult decisions.
Use the Facts
Your opinions must always be rooted in facts. It is easy to get sidetracked or pulled astray due to the emotions of any given case. You are dealing with tough topics including, injury, harassment, access to education or employment, mental health, etc. You may feel empathy toward one or both parties. However, it is important that you do not allow your feelings to cloud your decision making, and that each conclusion is based on the specific facts of the case. It is often helpful to create a simple list of the facts that you are able to prove so that you can easily connect the facts to the policy when writing your rationale.
An essential, yet challenging, role for decision makers in Title IX, Conduct, or HR is assessing credibility. No one wants to say that a party or witness was being untruthful, or worse call them a liar. However, if you carefully choose your language and demonstrate the basis for your assessment, it is possible to respectfully evaluate an individual’s trustworthiness and reliability. Your assessment of credibility should include documented consistencies and inconsistencies, and a compare and contrast the information from the parties, witnesses, evidence, and facts. Then, it is necessary to attempt to reconcile any of the inconsistences. This may include a follow up with parties and/or witnesses. If an inconsistency cannot be reconciled, it should be noted in your credibility assessment.
Make the Decision-Don’t Get Stuck
As previously stated, the decisions you make are challenging and can impact the trajectory of someone’s life. Nonetheless, it is your job to make a finding or conclusion using the standard of proof adopted by your institution (preponderance of the evidence or clear and convincing). It does not do any good for you to stew over the decision, second guess yourself, or delay for weeks at a time. The decisions will be hard no matter when you make them, and delaying doesn’t solve anything. Allow yourself time to be thorough, review your work, make your decision based on the best available information, and move on. When you put in the hard work on the front end with your investigation, credibility assessment and report, you will be able to make the hard decisions without getting stuck.
Be Kind and Transparent
Make sure that you are communicating with the parties and the witness throughout your investigation and adjudication. Your communication should be respectful and as transparent as possible. Remember, your process is not easy on either party. After the decision has been made, meet with the parties individually to discuss the outcome and explain your rationale. Regardless of whether they agree with your decision (one party will not), they will most likely respect you for your kindness, candor, and transparency. A little kindness goes a long way.
Make sure to talk to your partners on campus to provide coordinated support measures, investigation, and response for the parties and witnesses going through your process. Weekly or monthly meetings with the right people in the room (and an agenda) are helpful just to make sure you are all on the same page. It is also critical to remember that some issues require immediate collaboration and cannot wait for the next scheduled meeting. Sometimes, the imminent issue can be resolved with a simple phone call, other times it is critical to schedule a meeting with all hands on deck. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or a meeting. You cannot do this work independently, you deserve the support and partnership of your team.
Take Care of Yourself
You cannot be an exceptional decision maker or even successful in this work if you are not taking care of yourself. Give yourself a break. Take a vacation. Follow your passions. Pursue your hobbies. Do not be too hard on yourself for mistakes. You will make them, we all do. Give your best every day and you will make the difference you were put in your role to make.
ICS provides tailored training for Title IX Coordinators, Investigators and their teams. Contact us today for more information about these and other services.