The impact of a biased Title IX investigation

I am writing this account of my encounter with Title IX and a related newspaper story to tell the full story and to set the record straight.

I am writing it for my children, so that there is a record of the truth. I’m writing it to make people aware of the devastation to individuals and families brought by a biased and unfair Title IX system.

I am not perfect. I have made mistakes as a husband, father and professional. I have lost my marriage, fractured relationships, and been nearly bankrupted. But I am NOT the man portrayed in either the one-sided, rush-to-judgment investigation I refused to participate in, or the inaccurate and misleading story that was published in the Seattle Times.

In the fall of 2017, the University of Washington notified me that it was investigating me for alleged sexual harassment by a former graduate student, six months after she was no longer at the university. From the moment I learned of the allegations, I never wavered in my insistence that a sexual encounter I had earlier that year with a former student was consensual. I committed adultery but not any crime.

My encounter with Cassandra Strickland, who was 23 and a former graduate student at the time, occurred after a private gathering on Lake Washington following the annual Opening Day boating festival. At the time I was the school’s senior associate athletic director and Ms. Strickland had just completed a graduate student internship in fundraising. She was no longer a student, and the event we were at was private and separate from any work related to the school.

Contrary to testimony included in the investigation and the news story that followed, Ms. Strickland never asked for a ride home that evening. Ms. Strickland asked me to drop her off at her vehicle. She then suggested we drive somewhere else nearby and get together, which we did — consensually.

Not only was this occurrence consensual, but for the next month Ms. Strickland and I continued to text each other and see each other at several events. We also spoke in person and by phone when she returned to UW in the fall of 2017. During this entire time, she gave me no indication of regret or ill will. Twice at UW gatherings, she visited with my family and children. On several occasions, she wanted to get together again. Regretting my infidelity, I decided not to engage any further.

I made a costly misstep, one that dearly hurt my family, my personal life, and my professional career. I should not have gotten together with Ms. Strickland. While I rationalized then that she was no longer a student or employee, my rationalization was wrong. It was a relationship with an employee under my authority and I was wrong to engage in that relationship. It is something I regret deeply to this day. But I want to be clear that everything that happened was consensual. I have NEVER had non-consensual sexual activity with any woman.

The allegations of sexual misconduct stunned me. I took them seriously. All allegations of sexual impropriety should be taken seriously. Assault of any kind is illegal and inexcusable and should never be tolerated.

When I became aware of the allegations, I immediately sought legal counsel and agreed that the policies and processes in place under Title IX at the time afforded me no fair opportunity to receive a fair hearing. The allegations and my inability to defend myself, as well as my shame for hurting my wife and family, caused me deep despair. My doctor prescribed me medical leave to deal with my mental health. I later resigned from UW, not wanting to cause anybody embarrassment.

Months later after I began working for a tech start up in Seattle, I learned that UW proceeded with an investigation based on Ms. Strickland’s account only. Investigators called witnesses only on behalf of Ms. Strickland and failed on so many levels to fully piece together details of the encounter.

In an exit call to present their findings to my legal counsel at the time Gabe Galanda, the lone Title IX investigator made very clear UW was focused only on delivering a guilty verdict, without concern for my constitutional rights.

When my lawyer questioned the investigator, Samantha Funk, she repeatedly admitted to not asking Ms. Strickland crucial questions about our encounter. This is just a small sample from the transcript:

MR. GALANDA: Did you ask her if the doors on the truck were locked?

MS. FUNK: No, I did not ask that.

MR. GALANDA: Did you ask her if she ever felt like she could not get out of the car on her own?

MS. FUNK: No, I didn’t ask her that.

MR. GALANDA: Did you ask if she — if she tried to get out of the front seat on her own?

MS. FUNK: No.

MR. GALANDA: Or the back seat?

MS. FUNK: No.

MR. GALANDA: So she got in consensually?

MS. FUNK: Yeah, I think she got — she got in — she got in with the understanding that he was going give her a ride home.

MR. GALANDA: Okay, and then on the idea that she ended up in the back seat, is that still consensual, best you could tell, or was that nonconsensual, getting into the back seat?

MS. FUNK: Well, I would say I don’t think — I don’t think that — I don’t think that is explicitly part of my finding, whether getting into the — you know, that’s getting pretty granular.

MR. GALANDA: Oh, I mean, I think you have to get granular or your investigation’s in trouble. I guess I’m trying to figure out, it sounds like you’re suggesting she got into the truck consensually, and now you’re suggesting that she wasn’t pulled into the back seat but it was nonconsensual that somehow she ended up in the back seat?

Ms. Funk also failed to interview witnesses, including a mutual friend who talked to Ms. Strickland and me while we were in my truck. Ms. Funk’s Title IX investigation not only lacked “granular” details; it was incomplete. Her investigation lacked specific and important details that an investigation must have to resemble due process under law. Her suggestion that to ask questions about sexual assault allegations would be “getting pretty granular” underscores how her findings lack merit.

At no time after that exit call was I offered an opportunity to appeal Ms. Funk’s finding. The UW also made it clear the finding would be confidential. I was set to try and move on with my life and accept UW’s unsubstantiated finding.

The Story

Over the next two years, after reevaluating my life and the choices I was making, I gave up alcohol, worked hard on my marriage and reconnecting with my family. I took a job as vice president for advancement at Grand Canyon University. Then in June of 2019, I heard rumblings that a brand-new reporter for the Seattle Times, Asia Fields, intended to do a story based on the UW investigation.

Ms. Fields took it upon herself to investigate and make news of the incident that was two years old. She carelessly reopened old wounds. Ms. Fields even called my wife and spoke to my nine-year-old daughter, looking for comment. My lawyer returned Ms. Fields’ call and attempted to provide information responsive to the reporter’s questions. After she tried to put words in his mouth, he called her editor at the Seattle Times about her unethical tactics, but her editor would not intercede.

On my lawyer’s advice, my family agreed it was in my best interest to not speak with Ms. Fields or comment on the story. We were sure it would be a one-sided version of events. It certainly was. It was a disgusting and grossly inaccurate attempt to publicize a one-sided investigation with the only purpose being to shame and ruin me.

The proof of the exit call and Ms. Funk’s failure to ask any “granular” questions of Ms. Strickland about her allegations were readily available to the reporter, Ms. Fields and the Seattle Times. I have the records of what UW produced for her. She overlooked or ignored that and any other evidence that did not fit her narrative about me. Like Ms. Funk, Ms. Fields simply accepted Ms. Strickland’s story as the truth.

In 2019, I was finally able to tell my side of the story through an arbitration hearing with GCU, during which my legal counsel was able to shed light on the failures of the UW investigator to also fully consider Ms. Strickland’s account after the encounter:

“At no time prior to or after presenting her complaint to the University did Strickland file a police report with any law enforcement agency asserting any of the allegations presented to the University. Additionally, after Strickland presented her allegations to the University, she failed to confirm in writing her allegations were factually accurate when specifically asked to do so by the University. In fact, after making her initial allegations, Strickland informed the University that she did NOT want to move forward with her complaint. Not surprisingly, after being told he had been accused of criminal sexual assault, Shick chose not to participate in the University investigation. Notwithstanding his refusal to participate in the University investigation, Shick has consistently acknowledged he had sexual relations with Strickland, and consistently asserted those relations were consensual”.

Additionally, Ms. Funk admits to misrepresenting the allegations in her investigative findings:

“Notwithstanding his inability to internally address the quality or conclusions of the investigation, Shick believed there were glaring problems with the University investigation (beyond Strickland’s own refusal to affirm her allegations) calling into serious question the investigative conclusions. For example, although the investigative report summary indicates fact 29 witnesses were interviewed, interview notes exist for only 12 witnesses, none of whom were able to independently verify Strickland’s sexual assault allegations. Even more concerning, the University investigator conceded she misrepresented Strickland’s allegations in the investigative report and failed to inquire into facts critical to evaluating the veracity of Strickland’s allegations.”

Before verifying any of the allegations made against me and contrary to its own internal policies, GCU fired me.

“When GCU receives allegations against an employee it is its practice to conduct an investigation to make sure the allegations are accurate and are being fairly portrayed. Before making any judgment as to whether the conclusions reached in the course of an investigation were reliable or fair, a GCU investigation is supposed to include evaluating the quality of witness interviews; the quality of other information made available during the investigation; and the quality of the investigation as a whole. However, GCU conducted no independent investigation, no one at GCU reached out to the University to independently verify the information provided by the Seattle Times, and [GCU’s President] had no conversation with Shick discussing the allegations against Shick.”

I take full responsibility for my violation of UW policy and I accept the loss of two jobs for that transgression. But I take issue with the pressure that Title IX puts on universities to keep their funding by ruling in Title IX cases without due process protections. The irreparable damage Ms. Funk and Ms. Fields caused my family and me was inflicted without regard of my constitutional rights to be treated fairly and impartially. I was tried and found guilty twice — first in a horribly flawed Title IX process and then in the court of public opinion — without any meaningful opportunity to defend myself.

Title IX failures

Title IX overreach has been well documented. More than 700 lawsuits across the country have so far been filed by men and women denied due process under Title IX rules that weren’t changed until August 2020. Those rules also protect the rights of those accused in Title IX processes and should not be reversed.

Much has been written about the glaring failures of Title IX and the failures to provide due process. Even the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg criticized the way in which colleges conduct these investigations:

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Rosen asked the Court’s second-ever female justice for her thoughts on the #MeToo movement. Unsurprisingly, Ginsburg was happy about the increased public attention being paid to the problems of sexual harassment and gender-based inequality in the workplace. But she was also concerned about protecting the due process rights of the accused — particularly on college campuses:

Rosen: What about due process for the accused?

Ginsburg: Well, that must not be ignored and it goes beyond sexual harassment. The person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself, and we certainly should not lose sight of that. Recognizing that these are complaints that should be heard. There’s been criticism of some college codes of conduct for not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that’s one of the basic tenets of our system, as you know, everyone deserves a fair hearing.

Rosen: Are some of those criticisms of the college codes valid?

Ginsburg: Do I think they are? Yes.

It’s time to fully restore and protect the rights of everyone involved in the Title IX process.

Until then, I am telling my truth and making it public, hoping to close a chapter. I continue to feel the full impact of what I have done and what has been done to me. For those who know me and have supported me through this process, I am forever grateful.

The truth is ultimately the most import thing and now I can move ahead, knowing this was just a detour on my journey to a hopeful future.

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Roy Shick

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