Vanderbilt shares concerns, observations on proposed Title IX changes

Vanderbilt has joined with peers in the Association of American Universities (AAU) to share concerns and provide observations about the likely effects of the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed new Title IX regulations.

The proposed new rules, which are not yet final, could significantly change how incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct are handled at colleges and universities.

“As part of our commitment to preventing sexual misconduct and providing support to students impacted by it, we believe it is critical that Vanderbilt, and the larger higher education community, have a strong voice in shaping these rules,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente said.

“We are closely monitoring and engaging on this incredibly important issue. Until the proposed rules are final, which could take some time, we remain committed to our current Title IX process, which is designed to be fair to all parties involved.”

The AAU provided their feedback as part of the public comment period of the rulemaking process. The public comment period ends Wednesday, Jan. 30. Those who wish to comment, can do so here.

Chief among the concerns is the Department of Education’s proposed “one-size-fits-all” approach for responding to sexual misconduct reports that will limit a university’s ability to tailor their policies and procedures to their campus communities.

The AAU statement, on behalf of the member universities, highlights how mandating a potentially adversarial, hearing-based system that includes cross examination is likely to chill participation by complainants, witnesses and respondents – thus undermining institutions’ efforts to address sexual misconduct.

Further, universities’ existing disciplinary proceedings are not intended to be criminal or civil courts. Under the proposed rules, institutions would no longer be able to offer alternative investigation and adjudication models for students who proceed with a formal complaint process but do not wish to participate in a quasi-judicial hearing.

Additionally, Vanderbilt and its peers say that the Department’s proposal to narrow the definition of “sexual harassment,” combined with a proposed reduction in the geographic scope for enforcement, do not align with their values, nor with their interests in providing a safe campus environment and addressing all student reports of sexual misconduct.

The proposed regulations, however, do permit universities, like Vanderbilt, who use the preponderance of the evidence standard in all Title IX matters to continue to apply that standard if the institutions comply with certain new related requirements.

As the rulemaking process continues for the proposed new Title IX regulations, Vanderbilt continues to seek information to better understand how sexual assault and misconduct affects the student community and how campus resources can be improved.

The university, in partnership with the AAU, will launch the Student Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct on Friday, Feb. 1. Students are encouraged to participate in the anonymous survey that will be open for 30 days. Vanderbilt is one of 33 institutions participating in the survey project directed by the AAU.

This latest survey is part of the university’s continuing efforts to prevent campus sexual assault. Vanderbilt conducted its first climate survey on sexual assault in 2015, the results of which have informed improvements to a number of campus services.