It may be difficult to think of Stanford University and not think of campus sexual assault due to events that have taken place both at the University and in the courtroom in the recent past. With Stanford University as a backdrop, the Obama Administration has made it clear that it will not tolerate campus sexual assault, or colleges and universities that fail to live up to its standards regarding the investigation of, and response to, allegations of sexual assault, sexual violence, and sexual misconduct.
Vice President Joe Biden made his feelings regarding campus sexual assault known when he wrote an emotional letter to the female student assaulted by Brock Turner, a fellow Stanford University student who was sentenced to six months in jail for his actions. Biden wrote in part, “I am filled with furious anger - both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth." Less than a month after the letter came to national attention, the White House announced new rules for future Administration visits to college and university campuses nationwide.
Under the new policy, President Barack Obama, Vice President Bide, their wives, and members of the Cabinet will no longer visit colleges, universities, or other higher education institutions whose administrations they consider insufficiently serious about investigation and responding to sexual assault allegations and punishing offenders. Schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania will be subject to this policy if Title IX compliance issues exist at present, or arise in the future.
This change is consistent with other steps taken by the Obama Administration which make it easier for students to report campus sexual assault, for colleges and universities to punish student offenders, and some would argue, not just level the playing field for complainants and accused students, but greatly tilt the scale towards complainants.
The Department of Education, and the Office of Civil Rights in particular, plays a major role in instituting these steps, many of which invoke Title IX federal legislation. The Department of Education is also responsible for investigating colleges and universities alleged to have either mishandled allegations of sexual assault, or failed to investigate such allegations altogether. The shift in the Department of Education's aggressiveness in pursuing such investigations is reflected by the increase in the number of colleges and universities under investigation - There are 253 ongoing investigations presently which is nearly five times the number only two years ago.
It is not just in the immediate past that the Obama Administration has prioritized addressing campus sexual violence at colleges and universities; it has been consistent in its efforts in this regard. Prior action includes, for example, the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault which was launched in 2014. The Task Force is intended to be an interagency effort to address campus rape and sexual assault, and its mission includes coordinating federal enforcement efforts and also helping colleges and universities meet their obligations under federal law; Title IX in particular. The Obama Administration, in addition to raising awareness of the issue not just on campus, but also in the national consciousness, has also threatened to take away what is arguably the incentive that motivates many colleges and universities to fully comply with Title IX mandates - federal funding.
In a perfect world, campus sexual violence would not exist, but if it did, in a perfect world, colleges and universities would investigate, and respond to allegations in a manner that was fair to both the complainant and the accused student. Although many colleges and universities may try their best to provide a forum that is equitable to both the complainant and accused, regretfully, some schools do not fulfill their obligation; this is at times unintentional on the part of the school in question, but at some schools, it is sometimes an affirmative attempt to avoid the critical glare that results when allegations of campus sexual assault are made by its students. Such misfeasance recently came to light at Baylor University for example, where school officials failed to investigate multiple claims of sexual assault to avoid repercussions for the Baylor University football program.
Because colleges and universities do not always fulfill their obligation to both the complainant and accused, Title IX legislation is in part intended to do so. Title IX recommends and/or mandates protocol intended to provide an equitable forum for addressing allegations of sexual assault on campus. These recommendations and mandates, applauded by some and criticized by others, are nonetheless an unavoidable factor in the campus student disciplinary process involving sexual assault and sexual violence. The reason being that significant federal funds are only available to colleges and universities if they remain compliant with Title IX.
Although long understood, Vice President Biden again made it clear that federal funding is a major part of the Title IX conversation when he recently threatened to take funding away from colleges and universities that do not "put the pedal to the metal" in investigating and responding to sexual assault allegations and punishing offenders. The Obama Administration, through its "no-visit" policy aimed at schools that are not in the Administration's good graces, made it clear that consequences for failing to comply with Title IX can come in other forms as well.
The "no-visit" policy, largely symbolic and arguably a consequence in name only, reflects the Obama Administration's position that, despite the "carrot" of federal funding, many colleges and universities continue to fail their students in their obligation to vigorously address campus sexual misconduct.