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Biden’s Pushing Ahead to the Obama Past on Campus Rape. He’ll Need Good Luck With That.

By Richard Bernstein, RealClearInvestigations

Earlier this year, President Trump’s often embattled Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, established new rules on handling sexual assaults on campus to strengthen protections for accused students, almost all of them men.

Joe Biden, who was the Obama administration’s point man for the policies DeVos upended, has made his displeasure clear.

“The Trump Administration’s Education Department … is trying to shame and silence survivors,” the Biden campaign platform declared. “Instead of protecting women,” it has “given colleges a green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their civil rights.”

To “stand with survivors,” Biden has promised not only to restore a set of Obama-era “guidelines” to combat so-called campus “rape culture” – with compliance a condition of federal dollars – but to add to them. As president, his campaign literature states, he would push for legislation creating, among other things, “online, anonymous sexual assault and harassment reporting systems.”

But as he works to restore and expand a “believe women” approach to sexual assault that DeVos and others criticized as a presumption of male guilt, Biden will face much more serious headwinds than the Obama guidelines did when first introduced in 2011.

In developments barely reported in the mainstream media, hundreds of colleges and universities across the country have run into a legal thicket as they’ve implemented the original guidelines. There has been a flood of lawsuits, more than 600 of them, brought by accused men in both state and federal courts claiming that colleges used biased, one-sided and unfair proceedings when they them found guilty of sexual misconduct and punished them, mainly by suspensions and expulsions from their schools.

Notable is that around half of the lawsuits heard by the courts to date have met with rulings in favor of the accused men – in effect a validation of the Trump-DeVos effort to protect the due-process rights of accused men and a rebuke to the Obama-Biden approach.

Then there is the matter of the Supreme Court, reconstituted with a conservative majority by President Trump’s three justice appointments — including Amy Coney Barrett. Before her elevation a few months ago, she was central in in what some lawyers view as a landmark case, Doe v. Purdue, when a federal appeals court found that Purdue University may have discriminated against a male student on the basis of sex, believing his female accuser’s version of events while barring the young man from presenting evidence on his own behalf.

“It is plausible,” the court said in its unanimous decision written by Barrett, that Purdue “chose to believe Jane because she is a woman and to disbelieve John because he is a man.”

“A real battle is shaping up,” Andrew Miltenberg, the lawyer who brought the case against Purdue, said in a Zoom interview. “On the one hand, you have Biden, the moving force behind the 2011 Obama policies who will attempt to roll back some of the regulations put into place under Trump, so we’re going to be revisiting due process and related matters, like investigations, hearings, and appeals.”

“At the same time,” Miltenberg, widely viewed as a pioneer in this emerging field of law, continued, “you have a clear majority on the Supreme Court who will be sympathetic to the plight of young men accused of sex assault and who haven’t had an equitable opportunity to be heard. And you have Supreme Court Justice Barrett, who’s written the most significant decision on the matter to date. It’s setting up an interesting and potentially volatile dynamic.”

Lawyers expect that as Biden strives to return to the Obama-era policies, confusion will abound as high schools, colleges, and universities try to figure out what set of policies they should follow because it would probably take years to rescind and replace the Trump/DeVos rules.

But it seems almost inevitable that the Biden administration will return to beliefs about sexual assault long advanced by feminists and the campus left. The very Biden vocabulary – the use of the term “survivor” rather than the more neutral “alleged victim” or simply “plaintiff” – is telling. It illustrates an inclination to assume, as Barrett found the Purdue administrators to have done, that sexual assault accusations should take priority over any contrary arguments or even evidence presented by the accused student.

Biden’s past statements indicate an acceptance of the “rape culture” ideology, the belief that, as one feminist website puts it, “sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture,” and that the deeply embedded misogyny of patriarchal culture requires extraordinary measures to combat – a vision of society rejected by its critics as wild exaggeration.

“We need a fundamental change in our culture, and the quickest place to change culture is to change it on the campuses of America,” Biden said in a 2015 speech at Syracuse University.

Biden was especially blunt in a 2017 speech at George Mason University when he said, “Guys, a woman who is dead drunk cannot consent — you are raping her,” a statement suggesting but then dismissing the ambiguities that often cloud sexual assault claims, including the common presence of alcohol, and differing and changing recollections.

Biden ardently supported the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter introducing the guidelines to college administrators, even though from the outset there were strong objections to some of its provisions. Among them, the letter encouraged schools to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof in deciding sex assault cases, rather than the more stringent “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which had been commonly in use in these cases before. A “preponderance of the evidence” is the lowest standard used to legal proceedings, requiring only that an accusation be seen as more than 50% likely to be true.

The Obama guidelines also permitted a “single adjudicator model,” whereby the person responsible for handling the case does both the investigation into the facts and makes the judgment of the accused person. This person is more often than not the Title IX coordinator on campus, Title IX being the 1972 law that banned sex discrimination in education, generally seen as an effort to advance women’s rights.

The guidelines also left it up to schools whether to hold live hearings, at which accused students could present exculpatory evidence, call witnesses, or cross-examine the students accusing them. Some court decisions that have gone against colleges have found that some sort of live hearing and some sort of questioning of accusers is necessary for a fair outcome.

“We did see some bad cases in the Obama era, cases where it basically didn’t matter what evidence there was,” Jackie Gharapour Wernz, a lawyer who worked in the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights in both the Obama and Trump administrations, said in a Zoom interview. “The college was going to find against the defendant, the male defendant, no matter what.  I think the schools felt pressure under the Obama guidance.”

Conservatives aren’t the only ones who have raised questions about the guidelines. The liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom Coney Barrett replaced upon her death this year, expressed misgivings about them in a 2018 interview, just when DeVos was announcing the new rules: “There’s been criticism of some college codes of conduct for not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that’s one of the basic tenets of our system.”

Similarly, 28 Harvard Law School professors signed a letter in 2014 protesting the measures Harvard had adopted in response to the guidelines which, they said, “lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process” and “are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.”

The law professors complained that Harvard “decided simply to defer to the demands of certain federal administration officials rather than exercise independent judgment.”

A survey conducted by YouGov in mid-November showed 68% of the 2,532 Americans polled agreeing that “students accused of crimes on college campuses should receive the same civil liberties protections from their colleges that they receive in the court system.” Only 8% disagreed.

The DeVos rules, formally adopted in May after a two-year process of “notice and comment,” addressed the main complaints expressed about the Obama-era guidelines. Among other things, the DeVos rules require live hearings and the right of the accused, or usually his lawyer or adviser, to cross-examine the accuser; give schools the option to use “clear and convincing evidence” as their standard of proof; and narrow the concept of harassment.

Of course, no reasonable person condones sexual assault, or opposes punishing those genuinely guilty of it, but experts say it is often difficult to determine whether the activity was coercive or consensual.

“Probably 40 or 50% of allegations of sexual assault are baseless,” Brett A. Sokolow, the head of TNG, a risk management and consulting law firm who has served as an expert witness in many cases, said in a phone interview. “There are a lot of cases where someone says they were incapacitated, but the evidence doesn’t support that they weren’t able to make a decision.

“There’s also the education that schools provide,” Sokolow continued, “telling students that if you were drunk and somebody had sex with you, come to us.”

Sokolow estimates that over the years across the country some 20,000 or more students have been disciplined at their universities for sexual misconduct.

According to a data base posted on the “Title IX for All” website, some 676 lawsuits have been brought against universities by men claiming discrimination or due process violations against them, and 194 of those decided by the courts have met with a favorable outcome for the student plaintiffs.

Many cases that have gone against the universities have been settled out of court, 98 of them, according to KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, who keeps track of the cases filed. This usually occurs after the school has lost its preliminary effort to have charges against it dismissed. But there have been two cases that have actually gone to trial, one involving a student suspended for alleged sexual misbehavior at Brown University, another at Boston College, one before a judge, the other a jury, and the students prevailed in both of them.

Johnson argues that courts are generally deferential to universities and reluctant to interfere in academic questions, which makes the substantial number of decisions in favor of the accused itself “quite remarkable.”

What’s also remarkable, as Johnson put it in a phone interview, is that “Biden has never acknowledged even a single one of these cases.”

Whether he recognizes them or not, any effort by Biden to formally rescind and replace the DeVos rules will take time, given that the DeVos rules were adopted after a lengthy, formal administrative process. By contrast, the Obama guidelines were a set of informal recommendations, taken seriously by schools because of the threat of financial penalties, but never having the status of formally adopted regulations.

A more difficult problem could well be that many of the court decisions issued so far presage difficulties for schools that adopt the very policies that a Biden administration is likely to favor.

Doe v. Purdue, for example, showed that schools could be found to be discriminating against accused men if they adopt a “start by believing” approach. As Barrett put it in her decision in which the parties were anonymized: “The majority of the [disciplinary] panel members appeared to credit Jane based on her accusation alone, given that they took no other evidence into account. They made up their minds without reading the investigative report and before even talking to John.”

The court in Doe v. Purdue didn’t address the question of cross-examination, required by the DeVos rules but likely to be made optional in a Biden program. But in several cases already decided, courts have affirmed that cross-examination, or, at least, some direct questioning of an accuser by the accused or his representative is fundamental to a fair procedure.

In a 2018 case, Doe v. Baum, for example, the University of Michigan expelled a male student after he was accused by a female student of having sex with her when she was too drunk to give consent.

The university expelled John after a three-person panel found that Jane’s account was “more credible” than his. John, who said the sex was consensual, sued, and a federal appeals court ruled in his favor, on the grounds that he had “never received an opportunity to cross-examine [Jane] or her witnesses.”

“When the university’s determination turns on the credibility of the accuser, the accused or witnesses, that hearing must include an opportunity for cross examination,” the court found.

In another recent case, Doe v. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a male student accused of sexual assault (the female complainant saying that she had been too intoxicated to give her consent) argued that the school’s use of the Obama guidelines rather than the stricter DeVos rules amounted to sex discrimination against him, and the court agreed. In other words, the court seemed to be saying that the DeVos rules could be applied retroactively to ongoing cases, even if they had been initially filed before the DeVos rules came into effect.

“There is no question that the decision increases the risk of legal challenges by respondents against their schools for using old procedures in ongoing or new cases,” Wernz wrote in a blog post.

The difference in these cases led one expert, Peter Lake, a professor of law at Stetson University and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy to say, “Due process in higher education is becoming a ball of confusion – a mix of conflicting cases and regulations in flux.”

That is why some experts believe the matter is likely to end up at the Supreme Court. “Accused students have had appellate decisions in their favor in much of the country, but no general standard has been established, and there have been contrary decisions as well,” KC Johnson said.

“So my sense is that the Biden administration will construct a narrative around the decisions that have gone in favor of sexual misconduct accusers. It will be eager to confront the courts on this.”

If the issue does go to the Supreme Court, the case will be heard by two among the nine justices, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation hearings were dominated by accusations of sexual misconduct against them, which both angrily denied. The newest justice, Barrett, has already given a strong indication in her Doe v. Purdue opinion of how she might rule.

And then there’s the irony that Biden himself, though a “believe women” champion, has himself been accused of assault. Tara Reade, a former staffer, claims that some 30 years ago, when Biden was a senator, he pushed her against a wall in the Senate Office Building and digitally penetrated her, an incident that she recounted to friends at the time.

Biden has adamantly denied the accusation, saying that the alleged incident “never, never happened.”

Some experts certainly believe that if Biden were to undergo the sort of campus procedure that he advocated during the campaign, with a presumption in favor of the accuser, no live hearing, and no opportunity to present witnesses or to cross-examine Reade, he would most likely be found guilty.

Biden’s Pushing Ahead to the Obama Past on Campus Rape. He’ll Need Good Luck With That. | RealClearInvestigations

Accountability Campus Civil Rights Department of Education Discrimination Investigations Law & Justice Legal Office for Civil Rights

Sex discrimination in Oklahoma higher education

by: Adam Kissel, October 22, 2020

The world record for filing U.S. Department of Education complaints is probably held by an advocate for special education. She has filed thousands of complaints about equal access to education for people with disabilities.

Her newest challenger is economist Mark J. Perry, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who has filed hundreds of Title IX civil rights complaints about equal access on the basis of sex. He is winning, which often means ending unlawful discrimination against male students. Mr. Perry recently preserved civil rights at the University of Central Oklahoma, which had advertised that “the 2020 Computer Forensics Summer Academy is for high school female students. The application will be unavailable for male students.”

But sex discrimination need not be so blatant to be unlawful. In Teamsters v. United States in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that discrimination is not limited to direct signs that people will see (like “no boys allowed”) but can include “actual practices” such as how the opportunity is publicized and “recruitment techniques.”

It appears that many programs at Oklahoma colleges and universities are discriminatory and violate Title IX.

Not only might these programs violate federal law, but most of them might also violate the state constitutional provision against preferential treatment or discrimination in public education on the basis of sex.

At the University of Oklahoma (OU), for example, the Halliburton Women’s Welcome program explicitly excludes male students. This educational program provides “an opportunity to get a jumpstart on forming unique connections that will facilitate your success as an engineering or science student” and provides the benefit of “the opportunity to move into the residence halls early.” Under “WHO?” it specifies: “All WOMEN who: have been accepted to OU and will be starting classes in Summer or Fall 2020.” To be clear, OU put the word “WOMEN” in all caps and underlined it.

The restriction in that program is blatant. OU also holds a ONEOK Working Woman Workshop, which claims to be just for women: the mission of the workshop is to provide OU women engineering students “with professional and personal development opportunities that contribute to the preparation of students for career paths in industry and academia.” The name of the program and its mission both make it clear who is wanted and who is not.

OU also appears to discriminate against younger male students. Its Girls Learning and Applying Math and Science (GLAMS) program, to be held online on November 13, states that “Girls in their 6th, 7th or 8th grade year in the spring of this academic year should apply.” The program adds, “African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaskan Native and or First Generation students are strongly encouraged to apply; however, the program considers all applicants.” But boys are clearly unwanted. Photos of the program show 100% girls.

Additionally, OU holds an annual High School Girls Day sponsored by Shell, which similarly limits older boys from participating: “Current high school girls in the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade in the spring of this academic year should apply.”

These four examples are just the beginning at OU and elsewhere.

At Oklahoma State University (OSU), in contrast to OU, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) explicitly claims to “assist men and women in leadership and professional skills.” SWE holds SWE Day, a hands-on educational program to introduce “high school females” to the college of engineering, only for girls. SWE is primarily a club and does not necessarily represent OSU officially, so SWE Day may be more likely to fall afoul of campus nondiscrimination rules than become a Title IX case.

The University of Tulsa (TU) Department of Mathematics explicitly limits its Tulsa Girls’ Math Circle program “to girls from the Tulsa-area who are in 6th, 7th and 8th grades.” The program’s FAQ specifies that the program is for “Any intellectually curious and highly capable girl who is in grade 6 or above from any school in the Tulsa area.” Although TU is a private institution, it is bound by Title IX and equally in danger of losing federal funds if found to discriminate on the basis of sex.

TU also says it hosts girls (only) on campus for Tech Trek Tulsa, a weeklong program “for girls entering 8th grade.” This program appears, however, no longer to exist at TU. But TU also says it holds Sonia Kovalevsky Day, an annual “all day, all girls, all math” event that has continued into 2020. The partner organization, the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, might no longer partner with TU, since its website now says that the Alliance partners with Tulsa Community College (TCC) for this program.

TCC also runs the Mothers on a Mission program for students who are single mothers. This program provides “resources to empower single mothers through powerful speakers, peer collaboration, individual coaching, study help, and leadership training.” It appears that single fathers are not invited, although one line in the description refers to student-parents instead of mothers in particular.

Northeastern State University (NSU) offers a Girl Powered S.T.E.A.M. Workshop that is “centered around girls” ages 6–14. NSU says that “this is an initiative to educate girls in more S.T.E.A.M. areas.” Although the webpage says that “all are welcome,” the initiative is evidently only for girls of those ages, not boys.

Rogers State University (RSU) runs a Girls STEM Camp. Information online is thin, but it appears to be for girls only.

Not only might these programs violate federal law, but most of them might also violate the state constitutional provision against preferential treatment or discrimination in public education on the basis of sex. They also might violate the institutions’ own rules and policies against discrimination. Taking them together, one might see not just an unlawful bias in individual programs, but institutional bias at entire universities and in the public postsecondary system altogether. While Mr. Perry appears to have more Oklahoma work to do at the federal level, the civil rights staff in the state Attorney General’s office may also have some work to do.

The best solution, though, is for the colleges to remedy all discrimination before anyone files a complaint. Individual colleges, the state regents, and the Oklahoma State Department of Education may want to investigate sooner rather than later. Mr. Perry knows what he is doing and is effective in rooting out discrimination.

Adam Kissel is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs in the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. He previously served as vice president of programs for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, directing the program that defended the fundamental rights of students and faculty members across the country. He holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Chicago.

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Double Jeopardy: SAVE Calls on College Administrators to Assure Due Process Protections for Black Students in Title IX Proceedings

Contact: Rebecca Stewart
Telephone: 513-479-3335

Double Jeopardy: SAVE Calls on College Administrators to Assure Due Process Protections for Black Students in Title IX Proceedings

WASHINGTON / July 28, 2020 – SAVE recently released a study that shows black male students face a type of “double jeopardy” by virtue of being male and black. (1) Analyses show although black male students are far outnumbered on college campuses, they are four times more likely than white students to file lawsuits alleging their rights were violated in Title IX proceedings (2), and at one university OCR investigated for racial discrimination, black male students were accused of 50% of the sexual violence reported to the university yet they comprised only 4.2% of the student population. (3)

In 2015, Harvard Law Professor Janet Halley raised an alarm to the U.S. Senate HELP committee that, “the rate of complaints and sanctions against male students of color is unreasonably high.” (4) She advised school administrators to, “not only to secure sex equality but also to be on the lookout for racial bias and racially disproportionate impact and for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – not only against complainants but also against the accused.” (5)

Her powerful words were ignored. Over the past 5 years numerous black males have been caught up in campus Title IX proceedings. Their lawsuits often claim a lack of due process in the procedures.

Grant Neal, a black student athlete, was suspended by Colorado State University – Pueblo for a rape his white partner denied ever happened. (6) Two black males students accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student recently settled a lawsuit against University of Findlay for racial, gender and ethnic discrimination. (7) Nikki Yovino was sentenced to a year in prison for making false rape accusations against two black Sacred Heart University football players whose lives were ruined by her accusations. (8) These are just a few examples.

Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, a major stop along the Underground Railroad, recently dismissed Chaplain Tim Blackmon, its first nonwhite chaplain in its 155-year history. Blackmon claims Wheaton’s Title IX office failed to investigate a previous Title IX complaint against him in a “clear misuse of the Title IX investigative process,” and he was “completely blind-sided by this Title IX investigation.” Blackmon’s attorney believes the professor’s race heavily factored into his firing, and that Wheaton was looking for an excuse to sever its relationship with its first African American chaplain and return to being a predominantly white educational institution. (9)

The impact to black male students and faculty could be even greater than any data or media reports imply since only those who can afford a costly litigation file lawsuits and make the news. More data is needed, but anecdotally black males are disproportionately harmed in campus Title IX proceedings.

SAVE recently spoke with Republican and Democrat offices in the House and Senate regarding this issue. Virtually all staffers agreed members of Congress are concerned about harm to black students and supportive of ways to offer protections to all students, including those of color.

The new Title IX regulation offers necessary due process protections that black students need. By complying with the regulation, college administrators will protect the rights of all students and address the serious problem that black men are accused and punished at unreasonably high rates. At a time when activists on college campuses are clamoring that Black Lives Matter, college administrators should assure they are doing everything they can to help their black students.




SAVE is leading the policy movement for fairness and due process on campus:

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Addressing common misconceptions about the new Title IX regulations

by Susan Kruth, FIRE

The Department of Education finalized its new Title IX regulations less than two weeks ago, and already, a lot of misinformation about them has been published in various forms of media. We can’t address it all here, but we wanted to at least clarify some points that many commenting on the regulations are getting wrong.

Often, misinformation about the law proliferates because people don’t have the time or energy to check original sources. Commentary doesn’t always include citations, and sometimes people think they won’t be able to read or understand legalese anyway. On the second point, they’re usually wrong. So when in doubt, readers: Be skeptical of any source that doesn’t quote and link to the regulations themselves, and go back and read them yourselves.

Without further ado, here are some commonly shared incorrect or misleading statements about the regulations:

  1. The regulations mandate that sexual harassment cases be treated differently from racial harassment cases.

The regulations require that federally funded educational institutions — all but a few colleges and universities across the country — respond a certain way to sexual misconduct, and these requirements do not all apply in non-sexual misconduct cases. ED isn’t instructing schools to treat non-sexual misconduct cases differently, per se; it just can’t create obligations for how institutions handle non-sexual misconduct allegations in Title IX regulations, because Title IX governs sex discrimination only. Under the new regulations, institutions will no longer be required or encouraged to provide respondents in sexual misconduct cases fewer free speech and due process rights than they have been providing respondents in non-sexual misconduct cases.

With respect to the definition of harassment, for example, critics argue that sexual harassment will have to reach a higher threshold before schools can and must punish someone engaging in sexual harassment compared with racial harassment.

[T]here are many sources of misinformation out there, including individuals and organizations that should know better.

It’s easy to see where this misinformation comes from: In the spring of 2013, the Department of Education promoted an unconstitutionally broad definition of sexual harassment — “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct” — although it publicly backed away from this definition just months later. As FIRE explained at the time, the Supreme Court of the United States established the legal definition of student-on-student (or peer) sexual  harassment in the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education: conduct “that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

Moreover, in its 2001 Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance, issued by President Bill Clinton’s Department of Education the day before President George W. Bush was inaugurated, ED’s Office for Civil Rights addressed requests “to provide distinct definitions of sexual harassment to be used in administrative enforcement as distinguished from criteria used to maintain private actions for monetary damages.” It declined to do so, explaining that “schools benefit from consistency and simplicity in understanding what is sexual harassment for which the school must take responsive action. A multiplicity of definitions would not serve this purpose.”

The new regulations’ definition of hostile environment harassment tracks the Davis standard: “Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” So if critics have a problem, their problem is with the Supreme Court, or perhaps with the Clinton administration, not with the current Secretary of Education.

In any case, courts have been applying the Davis standard to racial harassment cases for almost Davis’ entire existence. When ED instructed institutions to punish “any unwelcome [speech] of a sexual nature,” it didn’t make the same instruction with respect to racial harassment. As a result, institutions were left with the impression that they should be punishing a far broader spectrum of sex-related speech than race-related speech. The new regulations simply clarify that both types of harassment should be assessed according to the Davis standard.

FIRE would be very pleased to see the regulations’ procedural safeguards guaranteed in all serious, non-academic misconduct cases.

Similarly, with respect to the standard of evidence, schools are already treating sexual and racial misconduct cases differently, and the regulations explicitly allow institutions to treat them the same way. In a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, ED mandated for the first time that all institutions governed by Title IX use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in adjudicating sexual misconduct cases — but again, it made no such mandate with respect to race-related cases.

As a result, most colleges maintain a bifurcated system where sexual misconduct cases are dealt with differently from all other cases, including racial harassment cases. Some schools, inclined to require “clear and convincing evidence” for a responsible finding, have been using a higher standard of evidence for non-sex-related cases than for sex-related cases since 2011. ED’s rescission of this 2011 mandate and finalization of the new regulations gives institutions a path (and ED has encouraged institutions) to use the same standard for both types of cases.

Finally, with respect to the adjudication procedure aside from the standard of evidence, the same is true. Many institutions already provide live hearings for non-sexual misconduct cases, but not for sexual misconduct cases. This may be in part due to a 2014 report by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, which encouraged schools to use a single-investigator model for sexual misconduct cases. Under the new regulations, these schools will give students facing non-sexual misconduct cases and students facing sexual misconduct cases more similar opportunities to defend themselves and challenge the evidence against them in a meaningful hearing.

FIRE would be very pleased to see the regulations’ procedural safeguards guaranteed in all serious, non-academic misconduct cases. (In fact, FIRE has worked with legislatures to enact bipartisan legislation that provides consistent, robust safeguards in campus proceedings whenever there is a potential penalty of 10 or more days of suspension or expulsion on the line.) But for now, the regulations at least help ensure that respondents in sexual misconduct cases possess many safeguards they are often granted already in non-sexual misconduct cases.

Students walk near Healy Hall at Georgetown University.Students walk near Healy Hall at Georgetown University. (Sharkshock /
  1. The regulations raise the standard of evidence for campus disciplinary cases.

Somewhat relatedly, critics have argued that the regulations effectively require institutions to use a higher standard of evidence for sexual misconduct cases than they did previously. This is easily demonstrated to be false. The regulations plainly state that an institution may choose “whether the standard of evidence to be used to determine responsibility is the preponderance of the evidence standard or the clear and convincing evidence standard,” so long as it uses the same standard for “all formal complaints of sexual harassment,” including against employees. If an institution wants to use the “preponderance” standard, it still can do so. Furthermore, institutions were in the same position before the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, and have remained in the same position even after 2011 with respect to non-sexual misconduct cases. There is no drastic new requirement here.

The same could not be said for the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, which did impose new requirements on schools — without ED soliciting notice and comment from stakeholders, as required under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ACLU and others argue that the preponderance standard should be required anyway because it is the standard used in Title IX cases in civil court. But those cases are against institutions that are guaranteed many more procedural safeguards in court than students are afforded in campus disciplinary systems, including some of the safeguards to which some commenters have objected now that they are required by the new regulations. Institutions also have lawyers and money and other resources at their disposal to assist in their defense. These institutions will not be punished because three out of five fact-finding panelists believe it is more likely than not that they committed wrongdoing, as students can be.

Still, if institutions want to use the low, preponderance standard, they may.

  1. The regulations gut Title IX protections.

Critics of the regulations claim that they “gut[] Title IX protections for students.” To the contrary, as my colleague Joe Cohn explained in a post earlier this month, the regulations require that schools provide new and important safeguards, options, and tools to both complainants and respondents, and they bring the focus of the regulations back to the original purpose of Title IX — ensuring equal access to education.

Right now, too many institutions aim for whatever result is worst for the respondent, not whatever result is best for the complainant. They are concerned with punishing students who they deem guilty, but they are not necessarily asking what complainants feel would be most helpful for them to continue their education. That serves no one.

Safeguards like the opportunity to question witnesses aren’t just useful for respondents; they can be used by complainants and their representatives to demonstrate to fact-finders the truth of their complaints, too. With more information shared in advance of the hearing, complainants will be better able to prepare for it. And with a guarantee of impartial fact-finders and public training materials, complainants can have more confidence that their cases will be handled fairly — or more recourse if they aren’t.

As Shiwali Patel, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, has written, “[T]here isn’t a conflict between ensuring a fair process for both survivors and for alleged perpetrators.” We agree. With both parties guaranteed many safeguards that they do not receive on most campuses now, fact-finders will be better equipped to reach accurate, reliable findings of fact, whether they’re responsible findings or not responsible findings. Procedural safeguards help ensure more innocent students are not punished and more guilty students are punished.

Procedural safeguards help ensure more innocent students are not punished and more guilty students are punished.

Moreover, some provisions of the regulations and supplementary information will help protect against common hurdles that self-identified survivors have faced. For one example, after recognizing commenters’ concerns about complainants bearing the burden of gathering relevant evidence themselves, ED emphasized that institutions, not students, should bear that responsibility. It explained: “Title IX obligates recipients to operate education programs and activities free from sex discrimination, and does not place burdens on students or employees who are seeking to maintain the equal educational access that recipients are obligated to provide.”

One victims’ rights advocate said in a recent interview that she received only two days’ notice that the person she alleged raped her would be questioning her. She was afraid of hearing her attacker’s voice again, and ended up dropping her case. We can’t say whether she would have dropped her case if the hearing process complied with the new regulations, but there are, at least, provisions in the regulations to address several of these factors. She would never have had only two days’ notice of cross-examination.

Between clear policies requiring an opportunity for questioning and the several weeks of aggregate time guaranteed to students as they collect and review evidence, she would not have been caught off-guard in this way. And she wouldn’t have to face her alleged rapist directly — she wouldn’t have to hear his voice if she didn’t want to. With questioning conducted by both parties’ representatives, and with the ability to participate from another room, she would have to endure less direct exposure to her alleged rapist than she did without the regulations.

This is not a comprehensive review of provisions that will help protect complainants, but these examples should at least cast doubt on claims that the regulations benefit only respondents.

Yet, many responses to the regulations have been extreme. Catherine E. Lhamon, chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights and former ED’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, tweeted: “[Betsy DeVos] presides over taking us back to the bad old days, that predate my birth, when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity.”

FIRE understands that too often, complaints of sexual harassment and assault are not taken seriously, and that FIRE’s mission of defending accused students’ due process rights does not align with everyone’s first priorities. However, it is just not true that affording students more robust due process rights means that anyone can rape and harass “with impunity.”

The physical act of assault — sexual or not — is still prohibited and punishable under university rules and state laws. The determination of whether speech may be punished as discriminatory harassment will follow the same analysis as it has in courts for decades. ED retains the ability to deny funding to institutions governed by Title IX. Schools will be able to mete out more serious punishments with more confidence that respondents found responsible have earned it, and that the case won’t be overturned in court. And, if anything, schools will be less able to hide wrongdoing (including bias in favor of respondents) behind closed doors, from training to investigations to decisions to appeals.

In a similar vein, critics of the regulations assert that the regulations instruct institutions to ignore harassment until a student drops out of school, rather than addressing problems early enough that a complainant can continue her education at that institution. But the supplementary information accompanying the regulations explicitly states that the applicable standard requires only “that a person’s ‘equal’ access to education has been denied, not that a person’s total or entire educational access has been denied”; it “does not require that a complainant has already suffered loss of education before being able to report sexual harassment.”

Again: Read the document yourself.

Meier Commons at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.Meier Commons at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (Ken Wolter /
  1. “But my school already provides a fair disciplinary procedure!”

We’ve spoken with many administrators who think that they already provide procedural safeguards like notice of charges and an opportunity to be heard. But these administrators’ institutions often do not actually guarantee these safeguards; instead, they maintain policies that allow an administrator to grant those safeguards or to omit them, at their discretion. This is problematic on several levels. First, it means that one student (indeed, a complainant or respondent) may be treated better or worse based on an administrator’s personal feelings about them or their case. Such a result cannot stand. Second, it means that many students will, in practice, be denied these procedural safeguards, effectively depriving them of a meaningful opportunity to present their cases.

It’s not enough to have policies that an administrator could theoretically interpret in a way that affords a student procedural safeguards. Policies must be clear and specific enough that they will be applied the same way in all cases, whether applied by the person who wrote them, or a hypothetical administrative robot, or someone who thinks the policies should say the opposite of what they say. And administrators should want this clarity, too. After all, if you went through the trouble of crafting a policy you think is fair, wouldn’t you want it to be applied as you intended if you left the school or something happened to you?

The regulations require this clarity and specificity. And if an administrator thinks their institution already provides these safeguards, surely no harm can come from making that indisputable.

  1. Institutions can’t handle this right now.

Critics of the regulations have argued that now was the wrong time to finalize these regulations. Subsequent headlines described the regulations as “quietly” enacted, as if there hasn’t been constant discussion of their imminence for nearly 18 months among those with an interest. Here’s the timeline:

The regulations were proposed in November 2018. Over 120,000 comments were submitted, and ED had to read and prepare a response to them all. (Hence, also, the length of the supplementary information.) When that was finished, organizations opposing the regulations reportedly (according to a college administrator who also opposes the regulations) implemented a strategy to delay their release for months more. Then COVID-19 hit. Institutions had over a year before then to plan for policy revisions. And without the delay strategy, the regulations may have, indeed, been finalized before this pandemic reached the United States, or at least before it changed the landscape for schools nationwide.

[M]any institutions already have language they can use to comply with the regulations … Institutions do not have to start from scratch.

Delay aside, these opponents of the regulations are essentially arguing that colleges must be required to adjudicate these cases during the pandemic, but that the executive branch is powerless to take steps to ensure they are adjudicated fairly. We doubt the same people would hold this stance if ED had finalized regulations identical to the 2011 Dear Colleague letter. After all, the 2011 letter was enacted without notice and comment and effectively required immediate changes, and we didn’t see objections to the letter on that basis from those who supported the new requirements.

Finally, two practical notes: First, if institutions aren’t looking forward to revising their policies mid-pandemic, they should be even less excited about facing potential litigation for denying respondents due process, especially with an ever-increasing number of rulings in favor of those respondents.

Second, many institutions already have language they can use to comply with the regulations, because they already provide live hearings in non-sexual misconduct cases. These institutions can simply start with this framework, take out language leaving safeguards at the discretion of various administrators, and add in the specific notice and other requirements from the new regulations. Institutions do not have to start from scratch.

A closing note

There are other arguments against the regulations that we will be addressing in the coming weeks and months. We hope that our coverage will serve not only as a source of substantive information about the regulations and their context, but also as a reminder that there are many sources of misinformation out there, including individuals and organizations that should know better.

This is not a black-and-white issue, student rights are not a zero sum game, and there is no easy solution. Not everything in the regulations is exactly what FIRE would have written, or even something FIRE would try to write, given our narrow mission. But the regulations contain many procedural safeguards that ultimately will benefit students on either side of the disciplinary process.

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PR: Expert Panel Calls on Lawmakers to Bring an End to Campus ‘Kangaroo Court’ Investigations

Contact: Gina Lauterio
Telephone: 301-801-0608

Expert Panel Calls on Lawmakers to Bring an End to Campus ‘Kangaroo Court’ Investigations

WASHINGTON / October 11, 2016 – Warning “victim-centered” investigations are “inconsistent with basic notions of fairness and justice,” an Expert Panel has issued a report calling on lawmakers to end such approaches in campus sexual assault cases (1). The Expert Panel was convened in observance of Wrongful Conviction Day on October 4 and addressed the growing problem of “victim-centered” investigations at colleges and in the criminal justice system.

“Victim-centered” methods abandon traditional notions of impartiality and objectivity, and instead call on investigators to presume that “all sexual assault cases are valid unless established otherwise by investigative findings,” as one report enjoins (2). Such recommendations represent a negation of the long-held tenet of the presumption of innocence, and are likely to lead to wrongful determinations of guilt.

One of the expert panelists was Michael Conzachi, a former homicide detective and police academy instructor. Conzachi sharply criticized the University of Texas-Austin document Blueprint for Campus Police, saying its recommendations to remove inconsistent statements and exculpatory information from investigational reports represent a potential violation of laws that bar evidence concealment and tampering.

E. Everett Bartlett, president of the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, reported that many lawsuits by accused students against universities now include allegations of investigational impropriety. He identified nine categories of investigational biases claimed in campus lawsuits such as Overt bias/Predetermination of guilt and Inadequate investigator qualifications.

SAVE has developed a model bill titled the Campus Equality, Fairness, and Transparency Act (CEFTA). The bill mandates the use of “justice-centered” investigations that would require campus investigators to “discharge their duties with objectivity and impartiality” (3).

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PR: American Law Institute Pulls the Plug on Affirmative Consent

Contact: Gina Lauterio
Telephone: 301-801-0608

American Law Institute Pulls the Plug on Affirmative Consent

WASHINGTON / May 23, 2016 – By a resounding margin, members of the American Law Institute voted down a controversial “affirmative consent” standard being considered for the group’s proposed Model Penal Code for Sexual Assault. Instead, the ALI membership approved a definition proposed by attorney Margaret Love that states, “’Consent’ means a person’s willingness to engage in a specific act of sexual penetration or sexual contact. Consent may be expressed or it may be inferred from behavior, including words and conduct—both action and inaction—in the context of all the circumstances.” (1)

The historic vote took place at the ALI annual conference on May 17 in Washington, DC. After two hours of at times acrimonious debate, approximately four-fifths of the 500 members present voted to remove the affirmative consent language (2). Leading judges, law professors, and practicing attorneys comprise the membership of ALI, which develops model laws for adoption at the state level.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers had sharply criticized the proposed affirmative consent policy, charging the ALI draft used “the bludgeon of criminal sanctions to impose the new and yet untested concept of ‘affirmative consent’ upon society.” (3)

The affirmative consent standard has been struck down in two state-level decisions, as well.

In August, Judge Carol McCoy ruled the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s affirmative consent policy “erroneously shifted the burden of proof” to the defendant. The administrative judge noted that “requiring the accused to affirmatively provide consent… is flawed and untenable if due process is to be afforded to the accused.” (4)

Last month the Massachusetts District Court ruled against the Brandeis University affirmative consent policy, saying “it is absurd to suggest that it makes no difference whatsoever whether the other party is a total stranger or a long-term partner in an apparently happy relationship.” (5)

Decrying the rigidity and intrusiveness of the affirmative consent approach, Newsday columnist Cathy Young asks, “While there’s still time, we should stop and ask just how much government we really want in the bedroom.” (6) More information about affirmative consent can be found on the SAVE website (7).


SAVE is working for evidence-based, constitutionally sound solutions to campus sexual assault:

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PR: Georgia Tech Reinstatement is Evidence of Growing Public Alarm over Due Process and Free Speech on Campus

Contact: Gina Lauterio
Telephone: 301-801-0608

Georgia Tech Reinstatement is Evidence of Growing Public Alarm over Due Process and Free Speech on Campus

WASHINGTON / January 6, 2016 – The recent decision to reinstate a Georgia Tech student expelled for an alleged sexual offense marks a growing wave of popular concern over the erosion of due process protections and free speech rights on college campuses.

Earlier this week the Georgia Tech Board of Regents overrode the decision by a school administrator who had recommended the expulsion of a student accused of sexual assault. The Board reinstated the student when it learned that the investigator failed to interview witnesses provided by the defendant and gave him only one hour to review a 13-page, single spaced summary of the investigation (1).

Numerous other judicial decisions or legal settlements in recent months have overturned the findings of campus sex tribunals for due process violations. The decisions involved the University of California-San Diego, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Washington and Lee University, University of Southern California, and Middlebury College (2).

Concerns over the loss of free speech rights are being voiced, as well. President Obama has twice called for the restoration of open debate on campuses, first at a town hall meeting on September 15 and more recently during a November 15 interview with George Stephanopoulos (3).

Legislators have also taken up the cause of restoring free speech. On June 2, 2015 the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on the state of free speech on college campuses (4).

In Missouri more than 100 members of the state Legislature signed a letter to the University of Missouri’s board of curators demanding the “immediate firing” of a professor who attempted to have a reporter forcibly removed during a student protest (5).

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri likewise urged the University of Missouri to not compromise the right to free expression in its efforts to fight racism, saying, “Mistakenly addressing symptoms — instead of causes — and doing it in a way that runs counter to the First Amendment is not the wise or appropriate response.” (6)

“Due process and free speech are part of the American DNA,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “Lawmakers should not shrink from the challenge of restoring constitutionally-rooted rights and protections to college campuses.”


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PR: Many DV Agencies are Spreading False Facts, Research Shows


Contact: Teri Stoddard
Telephone: 301-801-0608

Many DV Agencies are Spreading False Facts, Research Shows

WASHINGTON / January 31, 2014 – A leading domestic violence researcher has found the online fact sheets of many domestic violence agencies contain misleading and false information. The flawed facts could undermine public confidence in domestic violence services and weaken the effectiveness of abuse-reduction programs.

According to research by Dr. Denise Hines of Clark University, 27% of agencies’ fact sheets feature this factoid: “Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44.” But domestic violence does not appear among the top five leading causes of injury for women in this age group, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

Some claims are grossly inaccurate. While 21% of agencies make the claim that “95% of victims of domestic violence are women who were abused by their partner,” the CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that women represented only 47% of domestic violence victims.

Claims are often worded in an inflammatory manner, such as “battering knows no color other than black and blue” (13% of fact sheets). Other claims simply defy belief, such as “women who kill their batterers receive longer prison sentences than men who kill their partners” (1.2%).

Researchers have suggested that domestic violence advocates present false claims due to ideological bias. The research is reported in the current issue of the Partner Abuse journal.

“Domestic violence is a serious problem,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “DV agencies that twist the truth to serve an ideological agenda are doing a grave disservice to the victims who most need our help. This is shameful.”

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is a victim-advocacy organization working for evidence-based solutions to domestic violence and sexual assault:

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PR: Cocoon of Dishonesty: SAVE Warns Lawmakers about False Information from Domestic Violence Groups


Contact: Teri Stoddard
Telephone: 301-801-0608

Cocoon of Dishonesty: SAVE Warns Lawmakers about False Information from Domestic Violence Groups

WASHINGTON / January 6, 2014 – A leading victim-advocacy organization is advising lawmakers to be wary of claims made by domestic violence groups seeking to enact new laws. Stop Abusive and Violent Environments – SAVE — is issuing the warning after the Washington Post’s Fact Checker reported that a claim made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder turned out to be based on a false statement made by a leading domestic violence researcher.

In 2009, Holder made the startling claim that “intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.” Holder’s statement was taken word-for-word from a 2003 study published by Jacquelyn Campbell, a well-known researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

But Campbell’s statement turned out to be wrong, leading the Washington Post to say the claim could qualify for its notorious “Four Pinocchios” rating:

SAVE has identified many other examples of misrepresentations by domestic violence groups.

In the past year, SAVE reviewed the Fact Sheets of seven leading domestic violence organizations for accuracy and completeness. Based on the review, SAVE assigned a letter grade to the information sheet. In each of the 7 cases, the group’s Fact Sheet received a failing grade:

SAVE then contacted organizational leaders to advise them about the flawed information. To date, none of the 7 groups has corrected the erroneous statements.

False information is also found in the Findings of proposed bills designed to combat domestic violence. For example, the proposed federal International Violence Against Women Act contains 16 findings, of which only 3 could be verified to be truthful. All the remaining findings were found to be one-sided, misleading, or false:

“Victims of partner abuse are not served when domestic violence groups knowingly disseminate one-sided and false information,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “Lawmakers should assure that anti-abuse programs are based on reason and science, not a biased gender ideology.”

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is a victim-advocacy organization working for evidence-based solutions to domestic violence and sexual assault:

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PR: ‘Truth Team’ Will Promote Accurate Information and Inclusiveness by Abuse Agencies


Contact: Teri Stoddard
Telephone: 301-801-0608

‘Truth Team’ Will Promote Accurate Information and Inclusiveness by Abuse Agencies

WASHINGTON / September 9, 2013 – SAVE, a non-profit victim advocacy organization, announces the launch of a new project called “Truth Team.” The project is designed to counter misinformation and assure compliance with the new federal inclusivity mandate of the Violence Against Women Act.

Truth Team will rely on findings from the Partner Abuse State of Knowledge (PASK) project, a summary of over 1,700 research studies on domestic violence which concludes men and women engage in partner aggression at approximately equal rates. (

The CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found 6.5% of men, compared to 6.3% of women, had experienced physical violence committed by a partner. ( , Tables 4.7 and 4.8) The survey also found that each year, men are far more likely to experience psychological aggression: 18% of men compared to 14% of women. (Tables 4.9 and 4.10)

But 18 months after the release of this government study, SAVE notes that many domestic violence organizations still depict partner aggression in ways that are misleading and untruthful. Faulty information can give rise to policies that serve to exclude needy victims. These exclusionary practices often violate provisions added to the Violence Against Women Act during its recent reauthorization.

Truth Team will review agencies’ Fact Sheet, compare them against 10 objective criteria, and assign a letter grade. SAVE will then work with agencies to update their Fact Sheets to assure accuracy. Results of the assessment will be posted on the SAVE website and disseminated to the public.

“Domestic violence groups need to make sure the information they are providing to the public is accurate and honest,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “Lawmakers and the public will no longer tolerate the exclusion of victims from our abuse shelters and service programs.”

More information about SAVE’s Truth Team can be seen at

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is a victim-advocacy organization working for evidence-based solutions to domestic violence and sexual assault: