Wash. U. Title IX standards must not be lowered
This past Friday, Betsy DeVos, secretary of the Department of Education, announced that her department is formally recalling the Barack Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letter that outlines guidelines for how colleges, universities and K-12 schools should proceed when investigating Title IX violations. While not a legally binding document, the Dear Colleague letter set a precedent for schools nationwide to follow in regards to the timeline of investigations (with a recommended 60-day limit on adjudications), the standard of proof and the responsibility of the school to investigate.
Among other changes, one major shift is a raised standard of proof for cases investigated by schools. As defined in the Dear Colleague letter, the formerly outlined standard was referred to as a “preponderance of the evidence,” or, “more likely than not.” This falls in line with the standard of proof used for violations of civil rights laws (like Title IX) and, thus, was set in place as an equitable basis for judgment. Now, the bar has been raised to the “clear and convincing” standard—meaning there must be an implication that it is “highly probable or reasonably certain” that a given incident occurred. While some schools already used this stricter guideline, all institutions of higher education are now advised to use it.
As guidance during the transition period, the department released a “Q&A” for schools to follow while stuck in guidance-limbo. Within the document, one question asks for the definition of “interim measures”—services like counseling, schedule modifications or increased security—and states that “a school may not rely on fixed rules or operating assumptions that favor one party over another.” But already far too often, including with cases on our own campus, those reporting a Title IX violation do not see their requests come to fruition.
These two major modifications, among others, described by the Education Department as a way to secure “basic elements of due process and…ensure fundamental fairness,” represent an increased protection for those accused. In the words of Sofie Karasek, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, the changes are “to protect those who ‘grab’ by the genitals and brag about it.” Rather than respect both parties, these fundamental changes stray from the very values Title IX was originally enacted to protect.
Washington University stated that they “have no intention of turning back on [their] commitment or resolve,” referencing that in recent years they have made changes to their Title IX investigation processes and recently hosted listening sessions to gather evidence from students and community members in light of complaints about the current system.
While the statement reinforced that the University believes “federal guidelines should remain as vigorous as they are today,” we believe the University must explicitly state that it will continue to follow the Obama-era Dear Colleague letter and ensure a fair process for all cases of Title IX violations. That being said, with this—and the possibility of future changes at the federal level—in mind, we continue to press Washington University administrators to take a hard look at their current policies and make changes based on recommendations from the student body.
As leaders in the University community, those that enforce and establish Title IX investigation methods have the complicated job of communicating between parties and safeguarding the rights of students. As a way of fulfilling these duties, making promises to continue to uphold Dear Colleague and following through on those promises represents a commitment to the values the University claims to follow—an important step in improving current policies.