Students, educators and concerned citizens have until Jan. 28 to comment on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s proposed revisions to regulations governing how institutions of higher education handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
This is an opportunity for higher education union members to speak out on the ill-advised changes DeVos has proposed that would clearly reduce the willingness of students to come forward with allegations of misconduct.
“These rollbacks are the latest in a troubling pattern of efforts to dismantle the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and to turn the federal government’s back on students who are suffering, vulnerable or disenfranchised,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said when the moves were announced in November.
Nicole Hochsprung of the AFT’s higher education office presented on the proposed changes at the NYSUT Higher Education Policy Council meeting last weekend. The council is chaired by Roberta Elins, president of the United College Employees at Fashion Institute of Technology.
Title IX is the federal law that bans sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. Already rescinded were Obama-era guidelines to require that colleges use the lowest standard of proof, called “preponderance of evidence,” in adjudicating complaints. The DOE changes ask institutions to decide if they want to use that standard or the higher “clear and convincing” standard, as long as it is consistently applied in all matters of misconduct.
Local unions, Hochsprung said, must think now about which of those standards would be acceptable across the board in cases of misconduct or discipline for union members as well as students. Another troubling proposal would limit a school’s responsibility to investigate incidents to those occurring on campus or within a school-sponsored program or activity. That could preclude incidents in off-campus apartments or at concerts or other events off campus proper, Hochsprung said.
Perhaps the most troubling proposal would give an accused person the right to cross-examine the accuser, not personally, but through personal advisors. It’s not hard to see how that could daunt a victim from coming forward, she said.
The Title IX proposed regs can be found online at www.federalregister.gov.
The public has until Jan. 28 to provide feedback, which can be submitted through this portal.