The University of California is “troubled” by the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX policies released earlier this month, according to a press release sent out by the UC Office of the President.
The statement, issued by UC Interim Systemwide Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Taylor, criticized the Department of Education for proposing changes that would “reverse decades of well-established, hard-won progress toward equity.”
“[The changes will] unravel critical protections for individuals who experience sexual harassment, and undermine the very procedures designed to ensure fairness and justice,” Taylor said in the press release.
Title IX is the federal civil rights law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding.
The Department of Education released an extensive report of proposed Title IX amendments on Nov. 16.
These amendments would narrow the definition of sexual harassment under Title IX policy, limit investigations to “formal” complaints and require live hearings for cases of sexual assault.
The Department of Education has authorized a 60 day period of public comment regarding the proposal.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who spearheaded the guidelines change, said the amendments were made with both the survivor and accused student in mind.
“My focus was, is, and always will be on ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment,” DeVos said in the press release.
“That starts with having clear policies and fair processes that every student can rely on.”
The Title IX amendments would rework the definition of sexual assault, changing it from “incidents that limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the educational programs” to “conduct that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity,” according to the proposal.
This redefinition would limit what is legally considered sexual harassment, thus invalidating the experiences of many victims, Taylor said.
“Narrowing the scope of what constitutes sexual harassment risks leaving serious misconduct unaddressed,” she said in the press release.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces civil rights laws in programs that receive federal assistance, has used an appropriate definition of sexual harassment in the past, according to Taylor.
Changes to this definition would not only create “new and unnecessary hurdles” for survivors but also create obstacles for OCR’s enforcement of Title IX.
“The proposed rules significantly weaken the OCR’s authority to enforce Title IX. In stark contrast to its current enforcement powers, OCR would not require changes to a school’s process unless it determines the school is ‘deliberately indifferent,’ an incredibly high standard,” Taylor said in her statement.
Additionally, the proposed regulations would require live hearings for sexual assault allegations. These live hearings would allow for the cross-examination of plaintiffs through the parties’ advisors, according to the amendments report.
Taylor expressed doubt that alterations to Title IX policy would improve the legal proceedings following incidents of sexual assault.
“The rules are prescriptive… 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.
Taylor is adamant about the UC’s stance against the proposed regulations, calling the amendments “ill-advised attempts to erode important Title IX protections for all members of the community.”
“UC remains steadfast in its commitment to combating sexual violence through prevention, transparent and fair resolution processes, and just outcomes,” she said in the press release.
“The university will continue to ensure its policies and procedures protect the rights and well-being of all parties in the process.”