U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has prepared Title IX policies aimed at expanding the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape. According to an Aug. 29 New York Times article, these policies would “bolster the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, reduce liability for institutions of higher education and encourage schools to provide more support for victims.” In a Jan. 24 email to the Brandeis community, University President Ron Liebowitz announced that Brandeis has joined 54 other Massachusetts colleges and universities to publicly comment on the Department of Education’s proposals.

Title IX is a part of the 1972 Education Amendments Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, specifically in federally funded education programs and activities such as colleges and universities, per the United States Department of Justice’s website. According to the DOJ, “In addition to traditional educational institutions such as colleges, universities, and elementary and secondary schools, Title IX also applies to any education or training program operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance.”

According to the New York Times, DeVos’s policies propose a narrower definition of sexual harassment than the one currently in use. Additionally, they only hold colleges and universities accountable for complaints that are formally submitted through “proper authorities” and for conduct that occurs on their campuses. The policies would also provide a “higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly addressed complaints.”

“I am concerned that the overly prescriptive model proposed by the Department of Education will not best serve our students or our community,” Liebowitz said in his email. “The comments submitted by [the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts] on behalf of Brandeis and other Massachusetts schools emphasize the importance of allowing colleges and universities to craft procedures that consider the unique characteristics of their own communities while ensuring equity, fairness, and respect for all.”

According to Liebowitz, the AICUM’s comments to the Department of Education reflect the University’s beliefs that the Title IX disciplinary process should be fair to all parties involved and should be conducted quickly and effectively, in a way that meets Brandeis’ needs. 

The AICUM’s submission also argues that “many aspects of the proposed regulations may undermine rather than advance Title IX’s very purpose — to provide legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance.” Requiring complaints to be resolved through in-person hearings with cross-examinations might deter students from sharing their complaints with the University, the statement claimed. It added that respondents, witnesses and the institutions themselves would also face new challenges. For instance, privacy would be more difficult to maintain for complainants, and addressing complaints would be more expensive and time-consuming.

“Brandeis is firmly committed to ensuring that all members of our community can study and work in an environment free from sexual harassment and discrimination. I believe that these comments reflect that commitment,” Liebowitz concluded in his email.