The director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities will leave his position later this month for active-duty military service.
Gabriel Slifka, who has been in the SRR office managing non-academic student misconduct cases – like drug and alcohol use and other code of conduct violations – since 2006, was called up to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve last week. The Army’s announcement prompted an immediate external search to replace Slifka before he leaves Oct. 27, Peter Konwerski, the dean of student affairs, said.
“We’ve had some candidates that we’ve talked to already and we’re going to proceed with a follow up set of interviews to make some decisions,” he said in an interview.
The University found out about his departure last week and is now searching for a leader to get the office through the transition, Konwerski said.
Slifka said in an email that he was honored to be selected for military service.
“I joined the reserves because I wanted to be able to serve my country,” he said in an email. “It is an honor to be activated for this upcoming assignment.”
Danielle Lico, the associate dean of studentss for student administrative services, will continue to oversee the office, but officials hope to hire an official to lead SRR by the time Slifka leaves, Konwerski said. He said the new official would likely stay in the role for several months until the University potentially launches a search for a permanent replacement.
Konwerski said Slifka would likely be gone for an extended period of time, but he could apply to return to the University after his tour of duty has ended.
According to the University’s military leave policy, a supervisor can fill an open position with either temporary or contract workers, with the expectation that the uniformed service member will return to work.
“We’ll do whatever we can to comply with that to make sure we’re in compliance as a University by offering the opportunity for that employee,” Konwerski said. “But in the meantime, we’ve got to make sure the unit works, and the staff and the students who are affected by the office and everybody involved has the support they need.”
Previously, Slifka left the office temporarily in spring of 2014 to complete training for the U.S. Army Reserves.
During his time leading the office, Slifka worked to create a fair judicial process for students while speeding up the process for dealing with misconduct cases, Lico said.
She said the office is now fully staffed with six full-time workers, including an associate director, three conduct officers and administrative staff.
“I think unlike when you have an office that has the same group of people in it for a decade, having new people in it enables you to look at things in a different way and through a new lens,” she said.
Last academic year, officials admitted SRR was understaffed after several employees left the office, causing delays for students facing misconduct cases.
Konwerski said Slifka strengthened connections between different groups on campus including the University Police Department, the Title IX Office and the general council office to improve the case process.
But throughout his tenure, Slifka has been singled out for criticism by some students and alumni for his handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.
In 2015, a graduate student who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said after she sought University resources to deal with an incident of dating violence, Slifka took weeks to respond to her emails and sometimes would not answer at all.
In October 2015, an alumna sued the University, arguing officials mishandled her claim that she has being sexually harassed by a male student in a case that specifically highlighted allegedly “callous” actions by Slifka.
Aniqa Raihan, an alumna and sexual assault survivor who led a string of high-profile campaigns and protests last semester, filed a federal Title IX complaint last month alleging that Slifka’s actions were unprofessional in dealing with her case and that he did not adequately support her as a survivor moving through the case process.
Konwerski said the new SRR director would be briefed on the external review of the University’s Title IX policies, which was announced last summer, weeks before the University fell under a federal Title IX investigation. SRR manages the hearing board process used to determine responsibility in a sexual violence case.
Konwerski said the new SRR head could provide insight into possible changes to the Title IX case process.
“This is something we need to think about, and we need to educate the person coming in – here’s some of the things we’re considering but that’s there’s always value in new ideas,” he said.
Konwerski said he has valued Slifka as a member of the team, especially for his institutional knowledge, having served for more than a decade in the conduct office.
“Anytime somebody’s going to go on to military service, you know I think we have to step back and thank them for what they’re doing for us as a country and for us as a community,” he said.
This article appeared in the October 19, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.