Breaking: Title IX revisions to shift how colleges investigate sexual assault and misconduct

Em McPhie | News Editor

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos formally issued new Title IX regulations for schools handling instances of sexual misconduct Wednesday. The updated rules are intended to go into effect Aug. 14.

The guidance, which is over 2,000 pages in length, has been criticized for prioritizing university liability and alleged abusers over the survivors of assault.

Universities will no longer be held responsible for violence that occurs in housing not owned by the school or that takes place during study abroad programs. In addition, schools will not be allowed to investigate allegations, even when proven true, that fail to meet a heightened standard for harassment.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

“While the rule includes important provisions that promote fair process, it falls short in protecting students’ access to education,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

Title IX was intended to ensure that no student would be denied or limited educational opportunities on the basis of sex, but the new rule “thwarts that aim by dramatically reducing schools’ obligations to address sexual harassment and assault,” Melling continued.

Schools will now only be held responsible if their actions are “deliberately indifferent,” allowing them to choose to not investigate incidents that they reasonably should have known about, Melling said.

Washington University issued a statement emphasizing its commitment to implementing any new measures required by the law.

“We are determined to maintain our focus on prevention and education, fair processes and providing support to all of our community members as we review and implement the amended regulations,” the statement said.

Among other changes, the new rule has been widely criticized for requiring a live hearing with direct cross-examination.

This could force survivors to go through “an anguish-inducing process that includes requiring them to face direct questioning by respondents’ aggressive counsel in a live hearing courtroom-like setting,” Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson wrote in a statement.

“There are alternative forms of cross-examination that are consistent with public universities’ due process obligations and are far more appropriate than the requirements under the rule,” McPherson added.

Proponents of the Trump administration’s new regulations say that they will ensure fairness and due process for those accused of sexual violence. Alleged perpetrators must now be given written assurance of their presumed innocence and will not receive any disciplinary action until the end of the case.

Regardless of the content of the regulation, its timing — during the middle of a deadly pandemic when most educational institutions are running at a very limited capacity — was termed irresponsible by many.

“Choosing this moment to impose the most complex and challenging regulations the agency has ever issued reflects appallingly poor judgment,” American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell said in a statement.

While schools are usually given at least eight months to implement new rules, Mitchell explained, DeVos’ new regulations are set to take effect in just three months. “[This] is as cruel as it is counter-productive,” he said.

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