Department of Education Installs New Interim Guidance Concerning Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses

Under the Trump administration, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has withdrawn the Title IX “Dear Colleague” letter of 2011 and established interim guidelines concerning Title IX and sexual misconduct on college campuses. The U.S. Department of Education’s (DoED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released the “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011, reminding universities around the country of their responsibility to protect survivors of sexual assault. The letter referenced the regulations listed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The purpose of the “Dear Colleague” letter was to let colleges know that the Obama administration would be tough on sexual assault, with emphasis on college campuses. Now, these policies may be changed.

Secretary DeVos holds the argument that former President Obama’s policies have gone too far, having diminished the rights of the accused. In a speech given at George Mason University, DeVos announced her plans for future Title IX policy. While she affirmed that victims of sexual assault will be protected, saying, “One rape is one too many,” she also placed emphasis on the rights of the accused saying, “one person denied due process is too many.” DeVos placed extreme significance on creating a system that will be more just for all, including those that survive sexual assault and those that are accused.

Critics of the interim guidelines state that it is “an attack on sexual assault survivors” and that the interim policy revokes a promise of safety and justice given to college students in the “Dear Colleague” letter from 2011. Those against the interim policy say too much is given to the accused, and not to the victims.

Meanwhile, those in favor of the statements made by DeVos say the current guidelines do not provide sufficient due process for those accused of sexual assault. They cite the cases where young men have been wrongfully accused but suffered at the hands of the legal system regardless. Andrew Miltenberg, a lawyer who represents male students accused of sexual assault, says, “Title IX was meant to be a tool of fairness, not a means for colleges and universities to micromanage students’ sex lives.”

On Sept. 9, 2016, Frostburg State University (FSU) was found in violation of Title IX policy after a three-year investigation. The investigation began when two FSU students filed formal complaints, citing Frostburg’s handling of reported sexual assault. As a result, Frostburg entered into a resolution agreement with OCR to correct the deficiencies found in the OCR investigation. This resolution agreement will last until at least 2019, and Frostburg plans to maintain the policies outlined in the agreement.

FSU Interim Title IX Coordinator Dr. April Baer says Frostburg “takes prevention, education, and training very seriously,” and that FSU “wants our students to feel the campus is safe and that we promote an inclusive campus climate.”

In comparing the Obama administration’s policies with Betsy DeVos’ interim guidelines, Dr. Baer makes the distinction that the previous policies under President Obama were strict rules delineating what colleges had to do in regards to Title IX enforcement. On the other hand, the new interim guidelines are more so what universities should do, not requiring the university to follow the rules, but rather, advising.

Dr. Baer confirmed the goal of Frostburg State in regards to Title IX, saying, “our campus community as a whole wants Frostburg to be a really amazing place, a comfortable place, and we want to continue to promote that.”

It appears Frostburg State University is committed to upholding a high standard of conduct when it comes to sexual misconduct and the policies outlined in Title IX. Dr. Baer affirmed that “the spirit of Title IX speaks to equity,” which Frostburg plans to continue regardless of federal guidelines.

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