U.S. Department of Education bolsters rights of accused with new, final Title IX guidelines

After over two years and much speculation, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Wednesday new — and final — regulations on sexual misconduct in education. The changes, made to the Education Amendments of 1972’s Title IX, will go into effect in August. 

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or athletics that receive federal funding. 

The regulations, first alluded to in 2017, are expected to strengthen due process for students accused of sexual misconduct, including requiring universities to hold live hearings in which both accusers and the accused can be cross-examined. 

Universities will only be responsible for investigating incidents that take place within their programs and activities — not at off-campus locations, like parties.

This excludes buildings that are “owned or controlled by a student organization that is officially recognized by a postsecondary institution,” like fraternity or sorority houses. If a university has “substantial control” over a situation — for example, if an assault takes place on a field trip or at an academic conference — they may still be required to investigate, regardless of where the assault took place.

The new regulations will give universities’ Title IX coordinators more oversight. They can choose whether to use the guidelines of a “preponderance of evidence” — in other words, what’s most likely true and what DePaul currently utilizes — or “clear and convincing evidence.”

In addition, the law’s reach has been extended to include dating violence as a sexual misconduct category. 

DeVos has maintained that the reforms are designed to create a more “fair and transparent process” in assessing complaints made to schools and ensuring that students accused of misconduct do not “[lose] access to their education.”

Kathryn Statz, DePaul’s director of gender equity and Title IX coordinator, said the office has “multiple mechanisms” for vetting the new guidelines within DePaul’s policy group before they go into effect this fall. 

“We absolutely anticipated the requirement for some version of live hearings and cross examination as well as changes to what Title IX will hold universities accountable for investigating, and will review these in the framework of what DePaul believes is appropriate for our community,” she told The DePaulia in an email Wednesday. “We are looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and thinking all of this through in a measured, thorough, way.” 

In an article published by Newsline on Thursday, Statz reiterated this, though she did not reveal any plans as to how the university will specifically handle the revisions to Title IX. She said the university will release more details as the deadline to institute the rules — August 14 — draws nearer. 

Statz added that she will be addressing the DePaul community in an email tomorrow regarding the changes.

In a previous interview with former Title IX Coordinator Ann Skiffington in November, The DePaulia asked how the department would respond to any potential regulation changes.

Skiffington, who left the university in January, said DePaul would have to follow the law while considering the needs of students and faculty.

“DePaul does not create the law, but we must follow the law,” she said. “And, so, we are looking forward to seeing these new regulations and what they entail and then. We will discuss it and figure out how best to comply.”