U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed changes to Title IX Regulations on Friday, Nov. 16, which would narrow the definition of sexual harassment and change protocol for hearings. Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed in 1972, which standardizes the treatment of sex discrimination in educational systems that receive federal financial assistance.
Under the guidelines laid out in 2011, sexual harassment was defined as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” These guidelines were criticized as being too broad and were consequently rescinded by the current administration last September . The new categories would narrow the definition.
The new rule creates three categories under which sexual harassment can be defined. The first is “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity.” The other two are and sexual assault and “quid pro quo” harassment, such as cases of school employees soliciting sexual favors in exchange for extra credit.
At the UC Board of Regents meeting on Nov. 14, the Public Engagement and Development Committee’s presentation on Federal Governmental Relations highlighted its anticipation for the Title IX updates. According to Chris Harrington, Associate Vice President for Federal Governmental Relations at the UC Office of the President, UC representatives had met with officials at the Office of Management and Budget to review the drafted updates two weeks prior.
One of the new changes to Title IX rules laid out by DeVos and the Department of Education would allow the accused party to cross-examine its accuser by a representative during hearings.
The same day as the Department of Education’s announcement, UC Interim Systemwide Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Taylor sent out a statement in response.
“The proposed hearings would allow representatives of alleged assailants to directly cross-examine complainants, which is wholly unnecessary and inherently intimidating, especially to students making the already difficult decision to come forward,” Taylor said. “[The Education Department] proposes these rules under the guise of protecting respondents, yet [the UC system’s] procedures (and those of many other universities) already ensure due process, including the respondent’s right to question complainants and witnesses in a manner that does not cause further trauma.”
Taylor also argued that the new guidelines narrow the scope of what is defined as sexual assault and for that reason could have a potentially negative impact on other civil rights issues.
“The proposed rules significantly weaken OCR (Office of Civil Rights) authority to enforce Title IX … Applying these standards to other areas of OCR’s jurisdiction, if that is [the Education Department’s] intent, will also undermine important civil rights laws that protect students from racial- and disability-based discrimination,” Taylor said.
Taylor assured the UC community that the university will continue to protect students’ rights and equity on their campuses.
“The rights of the most vulnerable among us are under attack, and it is important that we continue to counter ill-advised attempts to erode important Title IX protections for all members of the community,” Taylor said.
The proposed changes to the rule are open to public comment for 60 days; after that, the Department will assess whether to finalize them or not. A one-page summary of the proposals published by the Department of Education can be found here.
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