The U.S. Department of Education released a series of new guidelines for handling Title IX cases Wednesday, including a requirement to hold live hearings and allow cross-examination — a decision that UC administration said it opposes.
Title IX, a federal civil rights law passed in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex for all educational institutions and activities that use federal funding. Introduced by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Wednesday’s changes to Title IX policies will narrow the definition of sexual harassment, allow those accused of sexual misconduct to cross-examine and question evidence brought forth by their accusers and require universities to hold live hearings, among other new rules.
The UC system, however, opposes these “ill-conceived changes,” according to UC President Janet Napolitano in a statement Wednesday. The Department of Education was contacted for comment but did not respond as of press time.
“At a time when our nation is still grappling with the far-reaching impacts of sexual harassment and violence, the Department of Education’s action seeks to reverse hard-fought social and policy gains,” Napolitano said in the statement.
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar also said she strongly disagrees with the changes to Title IX regulations.
Sarveshwar said the implementation of cross-examinations and live hearings is not a “trauma-informed” approach, adding that these situations are being treated as if they are trials when they are not. The approach of the criminal justice system is not required at universities because the consequences are not the same, she said.
“These processes exist to determine whether or not someone’s conduct is OK in a school environment. It’s not about whether or not we’re throwing someone in jail,” Sarveshwar said. “There’s no need to take what happens in a courtroom and superimpose it onto a campus.”
Title IX attorney Andrew Miltenberg, however, said he believes previous Title IX regulations “compromised” the ability of individuals accused of sexual harassment and assault to defend themselves.
Miltenberg added that he thinks the new rules create a more credible, fair and transparent process by giving those accused of sexual harassment greater access to evidence and witness statements prior to hearings, as well as the ability to challenge decisions made by campuses.
“I often look at this issue not as a lawyer, but as a dad,” Miltenberg said. “What would make me feel confident that my daughter was being treated fairly and appropriately if she were assaulted, attacked or harassed? And equally for her twin brother, what would I want for him if he were accused of something?”
The UC system is currently accessing the impact of these new rules on its existing Title IX policies, according to UC Office of the President, or UCOP, spokesperson Stett Holbrook. Consulting with partners throughout the UC system, UCOP will work to best implement these new actions while meeting the Aug. 14 deadline set by the Department of Education.