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The Future of Title IX Enforcement is Uncertain under New Administration

DeVos and Title IX Interpretation

In her recent Senate confirmation hearing, Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos stated it was “premature” to tell whether she would uphold the Title IX guidelines set out by the Obama Administration. While she did not explicitly answer in the negative, she and her family donated $10,000 to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which opposes the current guidelines regarding how campus sexual assault cases are handled and advocates for the rights of students accused of sexual assault.

And in addition to the uncertainty brought about by DeVos’s appointment, the GOP addressed this specific subject as part of its party’s platform3 at the 2016 Republican convention. The platform noted that sexual assault is “terrible,” however, those accused of such crimes should be judged in court by a jury or judge, not by college faculty or administrators. In addition, the platform stated that the Obama Administration’s “distortion of Title IX to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse contravenes our country’s legal traditions and must be halted.

A Quick Refresher on Title IX Over the Last Eight Years

In 2011, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a “Dear Colleague” letter1 to colleges and universities that updated the interpretation of unlawful sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to include sexual harassment and acts of sexual violence. The expansion of the definition of sex discrimination broadened the rights of sexual assault victims on campuses across the United States.

The OCR also released significant guidance documents2 detailing how institutions were expected to comply with the newly interpreted regulations. These documents set the burden of proof in Title IX sexual assault cases to the “preponderance of the evidence,” which is lower than other legal standards such as “clear and convincing evidence” or “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The preponderance of the evidence means that the evidence must only indicate that there is more than a 50 percent chance of guilt for the student to be sanctioned.

As part of its intense focus on preventing campus sexual assault, the OCR also conducted over 200 investigations into how institutions handled sexual assault cases. Furthermore, an increased number of students filed claims against schools alleging that reports of sexual violence were not handled properly. Many victims’ advocacy groups applauded the efforts of the Obama Administration OCR regarding its focus on protecting students from sexual assault through the enforcement of Title IX.

Continuing as Advocates to Students

Though no specific plans have been announced, it seems likely that under its new leadership the Department of Education will reverse the 2011 OCR letter regarding Title IX. However, many college leaders have said4 they will continue to engage in prevention efforts and protections for victims of sexual assault on their campuses.

In addition, the anti-sexual assault movement over the past few years was largely championed by Vice President Joe Biden. Though he is no longer second-in-command, the former Vice President has stated plans5 to start a foundation dedicated to stopping violence against women. He also intends to continue working closely with many universities to improve sexual assault processes and prevention. Former President Obama has also expressed that his work to end the pattern of sexual violence on college campuses is not over.

If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed on your campus, your rights as a victim under Title IX should be fully protected. You should feel respected and safe, and an experienced Title IX attorney at Duffy Law can provide the representation you need during this difficult time. Felice Duffy has worked closely with college students as a Division I Head Coach and understands how a sexual assault can derail your life. She will stand up for you and ensure you receive the full protections and necessary investigation from your institution. Please call today for more information.

1https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html

2https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/frontpage/faq/rr/policyguidance/sex.html

3https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_FINAL%5b1%5d-ben_1468872234.pdf

4https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/01/26/college-leaders-discuss-future-title-ix-sexual-assault-prevention-efforts

5https://www.forensicmag.com/news/2017/01/term-ends-obama-white-house-issues-final-report-campus-rape

Christine Brown

Attorney At Duffy Law

Christine Brown has a comprehensive understanding of Title IX and how it impacts students, faculty, and staff on college campuses. Before joining Duffy in January of 2020, Christine held the dual roles of Director of Legal Services and Title IX Coordinator at Fairfield University, where she was responsible for developing the school’s Title IX policies and due process procedures. She presided over hundreds of university matters including dozens of Title IX hearings and conduct code violation claims ranging from sexual assault to hazing to racial bias.