Department of Education
Where Title IX offices exist, controversy follows. While certain students attending four year higher education institutions (HEIs) may feel empowered or supported by their Title IX offices, in my experience, many more feel mistrust, pain, and neglect. In my time as a student at three different HEIs, I was constantly surrounded by women and queer people in pain. Sometimes, this pain came in the form of a friend stating they did not want to engage with the Title IX office because they wholeheartedly believed nothing substantive would come of reporting. Other times, the pain came in the form of large groups of students making it known that they felt betrayed by their school’s Title IX office, unsupported and ill-equipped to advocate for themselves and their friends.
A recent article in the Loyola Phoenix, pointedly entitled, They Just Didn’t Make It Very Easy For Us’: Three Loyola Students Voice Frustrations with Loyola’s Sexual Assault Investigation Process, named only some of the many critiques students have of Title IX offices. The voices of these students are valid. Change can, should, and must be made. Any response which does not acknowledge these two realities ignores the pain so many young people are clearly feeling. Refusal to diligently, and in good faith, work on improving protections for survivors throughout HEI campuses is a failure, in every sense of the term.
With the Biden administrations new proposed Title IX regulations set to be published in April of this year, attorneys and advocates alike have been left to speculate as to what changes the Department of Education (ED) will propose. Among this speculation, is a narrower question: will ED, in their proposed Title IX regulations, finally state directly that universities can be held liable for deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment perpetrated by a non-student guest? At this point, any answer to this threshold inquiry would be speculative, but there are a few indicators that suggest the answer may be yes.
On September 13, more than thirty members of Congress sent a letter to the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, urging the Biden Administration to continue to build on the steps the administration has taken thus far to protect survivor-complaints from sexual misconduct. The letter emphasized President Biden’s clear interest in Title IX reform, celebrating many of the changes he has made since coming into office. However, alongside this praise, came the enumeration of several remaining concerns born out of the Trump Administrations widely criticized May 2020 Title IX regulations.
On August 24, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), released guidance clarifying that, effective immediately, it will stop the enforcement of 34 C.F.R. § 106.45(b)(6)(i). With this new guidance, a decision-maker at a post-secondary school may now consider outside information submitted by a survivor-complainant during the Title IX grievance process, even if the survivor-complainant does not partake in cross-examination.
In May of last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a Final Rule, amending the regulations implementing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. With this guidance came a plethora of changes to how recipients of Federal financial assistance covered by Title IX must respond to allegations of sex-based discrimination. Amongst the most notable changes to these regulations, was the clarification that a reasonable person standard applies to certain elements which are, at times, necessary to prove sexual harassment under Title IX.
In times of economic recession, Americans historically have sought additional education to mitigate minimal employment prospects and retrain for an evolving job market. Coding bootcamps may be especially attractive in the era of COVID as they provide vocational training in a growing field and many programs are offered remotely by design. These programs may become even more enticing because of a new financing instrument called an income share agreement (“ISA”).
On May 19, 2020, the Department of Education published a final Title IX regulation that changes the rights and responsibilities for schools, complainants, and respondents. In summary, these regulations respond to the need to provide a prompt and just response to individuals who have suffered sexual harassment and provide due process for an alleged perpetrator. These changes create a standard grievance process, define conduct that constitutes sexual harassment, outline conditions that activate a school’s obligation to respond, impose a minimum standard of school response, and establish procedural due process protections.
After two years of deliberation, public comment, and litigation, the Department of Education has released its final regulations for an overhaul of borrower defense to repayment claims. On August 30, 2019, the Department of Education released a press brief outlining new regulations set to take place on July 1, 2020. The new rules maintain that they are in place to create “streamlined and fair procedures that ensure basic due process for both borrowers and institutions.” Touting an anticipated savings of $11.1 billion dollars in savings to taxpayers over a ten-year span, the new regulations will likely make it more difficult for students to have their student loans forgiven. However, because of a missed deadline by the Department of Education, an Obama-era rule that favors borrowers by offering a transparent process for handling their claims, as well as automatic forgiveness of loans for some borrowers, is effective until that time.
On November 16, 2018, the Department of Education through its Office for Civil Rights, opened a series of proposed regulations for public comment. Interested parties anticipated the release of the regulations for some time, following the Department of Education’s 2017 rescission of the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague”. The 2011 letter required educational institutions receiving federal funds to use a preponderance of the evidence standard in adjudicating institutional sexual assault proceedings, among other things. The recent proposal makes that standard permissive, rather than mandatory, while stressing that institutional proceedings must preserve a presumption of innocence on the part of the accused. Though many groups applaud the new proposals, others raise concerns that the proposals stand to harm victims of sexual assault.
The Trump administration has proposed new rules for schools dealing with sexual assault and harassment allegations that narrow the definition of sexual harassment and offering greater protections for the accused. Under the new rules, the Education Department is altering the procedures colleges that receive federal funding use to adjudicate complaints of assault and harassment. The new proposed rules come during the #MeToo movement, which will likely prove to be very controversial to both those who support the changes and those who oppose the changes. The federal guidelines stem from Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.