Last month, the Title IX and Gender Equity Office released a series of revisions to their Title IX procedures, according to an Oct. 27 Today@Brown announcement.
Notable changes shared in the message include the implementation of a single-hearing officer model, an increase in the time frame of formal processes, changes to opening and closing statements in the hearing process and a ban on recording in most parts of the process. The changes were implemented amid a delay to the Biden administration’s planned release of general and athletics-related Title IX rules, at one point set for October. The University made these changes in an effort to “get a jump on” federal changes, according to Ebony Manning, Brown’s Title IX coordinator.
“We were anticipating that the (Biden administration) regulations were going to come out in October, but October has passed and we don’t have any regulations,” Manning said. “We are gearing up so we can be in line for the 2024 regulations.”
The release of amended federal regulations had already been postponed once before, with an earlier delay in May.
Despite these delays, Manning said the Biden administration’s proposed regulations — released in summer 2022 — provided a “roadmap” to inform University next steps.
One proposed change resembles a new University’s procedure — reversing the 2020 prohibition of a single-investigator model, in which one person examines information and policies to make decisions about Title IX cases.
Manning said she hopes the University’s procedural changes, which were in part guided by the federal proposal, can potentially improve the transparency and clarity of its Title IX complaint process.
“I can’t tell people how to feel when they go through the process, but we can tell them what to expect,” Manning said.
But Laura L. Dunn, a Title IX attorney and founding partner at L.L. Dunn Law Firm, PLLC., raised questions about the timing.
“It’s actually kind of odd that Brown would be changing its policies and procedures at this point,” Dunn said. While Dunn stated she was “critical” of the Biden administration’s delays in releasing new Title IX regulations, she also questioned the University’s decision to make changes before the Department of Education released official guidance.
When asked about the University’s timing for policy changes, Manning clarified via email that no policy changes — with the exception of removing gender-based harassment from its Title IX policy — have been undertaken by the Title IX Office. Manning did not respond to a follow-up email asking for comment about the timing of procedural changes.
According to Manning, University community members can expect further Title IX policy revisions following the release of official regulations by the Biden administration.
For Dunn, national context was not the only point of concern regarding the University’s modified procedures. She said that the measures adopted — a single hearing officer model, a longer formal hearing timeframe and restrictions on recordings — are “not for the benefit of the students.”
“It’s clear that these changes, with the exception of opening and closing statements, seem to be for the benefit of the institution, not for a more prompt or more equitable process,” she said.
In response to Dunn’s characterization of the changes, Manning wrote that “updates were made to the procedures which we believe benefit the parties involved in a formal complaint process.”
The single hearing officer would take the place of the University’s three-person hearing panel for student cases, while overseeing the same responsibilities, according to Manning. Appealed cases still go before a three-person panel. Although Manning shared her hope that having “one person instead of three” could alleviate some anxiety for students, Dunn shared a different perspective.
According to Dunn, “neither party benefits from having one hearing officer instead of three panelists — that’s about institutional resources.” She added that a single hearing officer may increase the risk of bias in the investigation, which a three-person panel would be better equipped to mitigate.
Dunn added that the University’s restrictions on recording meetings could potentially open up students to harmful conduct without evidentiary support. She also questioned whether Rhode Island, as a one-party consent state for recording conversations, would legally allow for such a policy altogether.
Manning defended both the single hearing officer and the recording prohibition in her response to The Herald.
“Everyone involved in the Title IX process … is trained on how to serve impartially, by avoiding prejudgment of the facts at issue, conflicts of interest and bias,” Manning wrote. “Upon receiving a report of conflict of interest or bias, the University will evaluate the report, and if it is determined that a conflict of interest or bias exists, the University will appoint another individual to serve in the role.”
Manning also wrote that the recording prohibition — which would apply to meetings other than hearings — was “vetted and approved by Brown University’s Office of General Counsel.” She added that banning recordings “protects the privacy of the Title IX process and all those involved.”
The procedural changes put forward by the Title IX Office will affect the overall process for formal Title IX processes received by the University — a process Manning explained would increase from 75 to 90 days.
Manning explained the expanded timeline “feels a little more comfortable and in line with what other institutions are doing, and it gives us more time to really conduct a thorough investigation.” But Dunn shared her belief that formal processes should return to the 60-day model under Obama-era guidelines.
A September lawsuit filed against the University alleged that the Title IX Office took 159 days to issue an investigative report after a student filed a formal complaint, The Herald previously reported.
Samantha Chambers is a senior staff writer and has previously worked at The Herald as a copy editor. She is a second-year student from Tampa, Florida and is planning on concentrating in sociology.