Following the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX regulations, President Christina Paxson P’19 reaffirmed the University’s commitment “to providing equitable and clear procedures for reporting, investigating and resolving allegations of sexual misconduct” in a Nov. 16 community-wide email. The DOE’s proposed regulations would alter how universities investigate sexual misconduct allegations made under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding.
The DOE has provided a 60-day public comment period that allows schools to discuss its proposal. The University is “carefully evaluating the proposed regulations to understand their possible implications for the University’s current policies and practices,” Paxson wrote. The University anticipates commenting independently or alongside peer institutions — or both — “on any aspects of the regulations that might make our processes less fair and effective or hinder our ability to support Brown community members who have experienced sexual harassment or assault.”
Currently, Title IX regulations allow universities to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard when determining culpability in their investigations. The proposed regulations would allow schools to choose between the “preponderance of evidence” standard or the higher “clear and convincing” evidence standard. In addition, the regulations intend to implement “a clear definition of sexual harassment” and would narrow the scope of incidents that universities must investigate. “Schools would be responsible only for investigating incidents that are part of campus programs and activities and that were properly reported,” the Washington Post reported.
The proposed regulations also emphasize “due process requirements” that mandate that universities presume innocence, offer equal opportunity for involved parties to appeal their case and provide complainants and respondents with equal opportunity to review evidence. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stressed the importance of “fair processes” in a press release announcing the proposed regulations. “Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” according to a DOE press release.
Critics of the proposed regulations, such as It’s On Us — a national campaign against sexual assault on college campuses that was launched under former president Barack Obama’s administration — argue that the proposed rules would make it more difficult for survivors to come forward.
The University’s Title IX Office remains committed to gender inclusion and “a meaningful response to the reports of harassment and discrimination” through both formal and informal pathways, independent of the proposed federal regulations, wrote Rene Davis, the University’s Title IX program officer, in an email to The Herald.
To comprehensively assess the DOE’s proposal, the University will “consult with constituents across campus to review the guidance proposed and take in initial feedback,” Davis wrote. University community members, “especially activist(s) on this topic,” should also provide feedback to the DOE on the proposed policies, Davis wrote.
Davis plans to “host a series of information sessions” to better inform the University community about the proposed regulations, she wrote. After the DOE issues final guidelines following the 60-day comment period, the University “will allow faculty, staff and students to comment on specific changes the University has the discretion to make,” Davis wrote.
The University was already planning to assess its current Title IX procedures, so “it makes sense to fold any changes of the law into that review,” Davis wrote.
The review will include “a series of open forums, town halls and (an) electronic comment box to allow the community to comment on the finalized regulations and the changes the University will make to our current policy and/or procedures,” Davis wrote.
The Steering Committee for Equity and Diversity will “take the lead in synthesizing community feedback and translating that knowledge into recommendations to policy and practice,” Davis wrote. “I will then take the recommendations from the SCED and incorporate them into an updated policy and procedure.”
The DOE’s proposed regulations arrive more than a year after it issued interim Title IX guidelines following its rollback of policy guidance from the Obama administration. The interim guidelines did not result in any immediate changes to the University’s policies, The Herald previously reported.