University of California, Santa Barbara
Paul Wellman (file)

The University of California is “troubled” by a proposed rule change to the Title IX policy that was announced November 16 by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). “The [ED’s] proposed changes will reverse decades of well-established, hard-won progress toward equity in our nation’s schools, unravel critical protections for individuals who experience sexual harassment, and undermine the very procedures designed to ensure fairness and justice,” wrote the UC Office of the President.

Title IX is the federal civil rights law that protects individuals from sexual discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding. Currently, schools are required to respond to all sexual harassment incidents that limit “a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the educational program.” Under the proposed rule change, schools would only need to respond to sexual harassment that “is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access.” The UC Office of the President expressed concern over the change in definition. “Narrowing the scope of what constitutes sexual harassment risks leaving serious misconduct unaddressed,” it wrote.

If the rule is adopted, case hearings would also allow alleged assailants to cross-examine complainants. The Office of the President describes this proposed rule change as “wholly unnecessary and inherently intimidating, especially to students making the already difficult decision to come forward.”

According to the ED, the proposed rules “ensure due process for all parties.” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has repeatedly expressed concern over the lack of due process for accused parties. Just last month, the Second District Court of Appeals overturned a two-year suspension of a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara because the student was “denied a fair hearing.” The student was found guilty by the school’s disciplinary committee of sexually assaulting another student.


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