Wesleyan terminated Scott Backer in June 2016, within 24 hours of learning from a Boston Globe reporter of his alleged misconduct at a former job. When he was hired in 2007, we used industry standard background check procedures, and received three positive references and letters of recommendation from his supervisor and administrators at the school, none of which disclosed the termination or surrounding circumstances.
Immediately after Backer was terminated, Wesleyan engaged Pepper Hamilton, a nationally renowned firm with expertise in campus discipline and Title IX policies and processes, to conduct an external review and audit of the most recent three years of cases in which Backer participated as the hearing chair or hearing panel member. Wesleyan provided Pepper Hamilton unrestricted access to information and University administrators involved in implementing University policy and did not restrict the scope of the review. Although some individual students were dissatisfied with the results of their case adjudications, Pepper Hamilton concluded that Backer exercised his role in a manner consistent with University policy and procedures. During Backer’s time working at Wesleyan, we never received any formal complaints from students about his conduct.
This year, we also engaged the Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC) to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the ways in which our Title IX policies and practices affect students, faculty, and staff. This addressed three major themes: reorganization, training and communication. The report that was produced notes that our students have strong peer support, faculty members are committed and engaged, our partnerships with community agencies are strong, and the campus community, in its culture and conversations, understands the importance of Title IX related issues. It also suggests areas for improvement, including building trust in our people and processes and reducing complexity wherever possible. We are working on developing specific recommendations, and students have been collaborating with the administration on potential policy changes, possible changes to the adjudication process, and educational initiatives. Improvements will be introduced in an ongoing way. Additionally, President Roth has announced that the university will be bringing on board an ombudsperson—an impartial, confidential and independent resource for faculty and staff to help them think through their options regarding workplace issues. This person is expected to be available to faculty and staff beginning in the fall.
We take our responsibilities to assist and protect our students and employees very seriously, and our work in this area is ongoing.
After news broke of Scott Backer’s arrest in May 2017, President Roth emailed all students, faculty and staff:
Like many on campus, I was angry and upset at the news last night that former Associate Dean of Students Scott Backer, fired from Wesleyan last summer, had been arrested yesterday and charged with sexual misconduct. This incident should remind us of the importance of supporting survivors of sexual assault and educating ourselves about the problem of sexual discrimination, harassment and violence.
I’d like to remind everyone that Student Affairs, CAPS, and the Title IX Office all have resources available.
The end of the academic year is already for many a stressful time; let’s remember to take care of one another.
Michael S. Roth