Over the next several weeks, various Senate committees will continue voting on President Trump’s nominees for positions within the Executive Branch. Chief among Trump’s appointments, Betsy DeVos began her Senate confirmation process on Tuesday, January 17, as Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education. DeVos was questioned by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions for over three hours.
If confirmed by the Senate, DeVos will have a heavy hand to play in politically controversial issues, such as how to enhance our nation’s public schooling, how to utilize voucher programs, and what to do with federal academic standards and programs such as Common Core.
However, with respect to issues surrounding college students, DeVos will be responsible for enforcing Title IX.
Obama & Title IX
Title IX is federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded educational programs or activities. In recent years, Title IX has gained notoriety due to its stipulations regarding sexual misconduct on college campuses.
During the Obama Administration, the Department of Education sent new guidance documents to colleges regarding how to best maintain compliance with their enforcement of Title IX. On April 4, 2011, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education released a guidance letter informing schools of how it would interpret Title IX’s provisions regarding sexual misconduct.
The guidance letter seriously weakened students’ rights regarding sexual misconduct claims. It diminished the procedural protections for parties involved in a sexual misconduct case. The letter also failed to adequately balance the rights of students to engage in free speech yet be free from sexual harassment.
On May 9, 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education released “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” which arose out of a federal investigation of The University of Montana. In this blueprint, the Department of Education widened the definition of sexual harassment–now defined as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”–in a way that greatly threatens students free speech rights.
Additionally, the blueprint states that universities may take “disciplinary action against the harasser” even “prior to the completion of the Title IX and Title IV investigation/resolution.” In theory, as discussed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, this allows universities to punish students before fully investigating any allegations raised against them.
DeVos & Title IX
Trump himself has not said much on issues surrounding the current enforcement of Title IX. But now that the Obama era is over, what should we expect?
During Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) tested DeVos. He directly asked DeVos if she would continue to enforce Title IX as the Obama administration had, and DeVos refused to confirm or deny that she would. She simply stated that she would be sure to enforce the law in a way that respects the rights of both the victims and the accused.
Only time will tell where DeVos truly stands on this issue.