Utah State University’s former Title IX director, who resigned voluntarily in mid-May, is receiving a severance package from the school that includes almost half a year’s pay and benefits, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Stacy Sturgeon, who was working as an affirmative action/equal opportunity specialist at the time of her resignation, was removed from her Title IX director position in April — two weeks after investigators found the department and other school administrators had done little to address a “pervasive culture of sexism“ and multiple assault allegations against faculty in the piano department. She had been the director since 2014.
The separation agreement, which was first reported by The Herald Journal in Logan, includes a nondisparagement clause, a confidentiality requirement and an agreement that Sturgeon will not sue the school, although she may file an administrative complaint with or participate in an investigation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The severance package provides 24 weeks of Sturgeon’s base salary, plus medical and dental benefits during the same time.
“Severance packages may be used for employees who have worked in an organization for a certain amount of time and have decided to resign as a way to make transition easier,” said Eric Warren, a spokesman for USU, noting that the package does not imply an endorsement of Sturgeon’s leadership.
Sturgeon did not respond immediately to a request for comment Thursday.
In February, the university hired Salt Lake City attorney Alan Sullivan to look into alleged abuses in the piano department, following a series of social media posts by former piano students who said they were harassed, bullied and assaulted while at USU.
That investigation found the school’s music department and its Title IX office specifically “did little to address” complaints within the piano program. At least seven complaints from students in the program had reached the school’s sexual misconduct and discrimination officers, the investigators noted, and at least three of those were made while Sturgeon was overseeing the Title IX office, which handles complaints of assault and discrimination.
In 2015, former piano student Amy Arakelyan sent an email, which was forwarded to the Title IX office, describing sexism, favoritism and sexual misconduct in the department. She said her scholarships were tampered with and academic services like lessons and recitals were withheld from students — complaints corroborated in the investigator’s report. Sullivan’s review found no record that Title IX investigators had forwarded her complaint to human resources officials, as she had requested.
Now, Arakelyan said she finds the university’s decision to provide Sturgeon with a severance package “disappointing.”
“So many things were just mishandled [in the Title IX office] ― like case after case after case,” she said. “We were young. We didn’t realize until years later that the people that we were supposed to be trusting in didn’t do their job well and that we suffered a lot more than we needed to because of it.”
Whitney McPhie Griffith, a former piano student who helped spark the investigation into the piano department with a social media post describing her rape and the school’s response, called the severance package “outrageous.”
“Maybe they should give some of that money to former students who had their lives so severely impacted,” she told The Tribune.
USU officials have been accused of mishandling a number of rape reports in recent years, including the cases of two fraternity members who were later charged with several sexual assaults and former USU football player Torrey Green, who is accused of sexually assaulting seven women while he was a student in Logan between 2013 and 2015.
The Title IX office is currently being run by Scott Bodily, who was appointed in April. Bodily had been working as an equal opportunity and affirmative action specialist at USU and also previously worked as a detective with the Logan Police Department. He will oversee the department until a new director is appointed.