In May of this year, the U.S. Department of Education announced changes to Title IX regulations governing sexual misconduct investigations and hearings in federally funded colleges and universities. The new regulations went into effect on August 14, 2020, giving schools about 100 days to revamp their school-wide Title IX policies and procedures.
Over the summer, colleges across the country have rolled out new guidelines, but one ivy league college is taking a unique approach. Princeton University, an Ivy League college in New Jersey, recently announced that it would implement two new and interrelated sexual misconduct policies. One new policy will comply with new Title IX policies. The second, a University Sexual Misconduct Policy, allows the university to pursue conduct that falls outside of Title IX's narrowed scope. As a result, the university can use one of two sexual misconduct grievance procedures to resolve accusations of misconduct.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal civil rights law enacted by Congress as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. Title IX initially prohibited federally funded educational institutions from sex discrimination for school admissions, athletics, financial aid, and employment decisions. However, over the last 40 years, Title IX expanded to include sexual assault and harassment, including intimate partner violence and stalking. Title IX applies to all U.S. K-12 schools, colleges, and universities that accept federal funds.
Changes to Title IX Regulations
One of the most controversial changes requires that schools offer hearings with due process protections, including allowing both parties to have an attorney-advisor cross-examine witnesses, including the accuser. Critics argue that this change will prevent victims of coming forward, afraid of being aggressively questioned during a full hearing.
The new regulations also narrow the scope of Title IX sexual harassment investigations, prohibiting schools from investigating misconduct under Title IX unless it rises to a certain level. Sexual harassment is now “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school's education program or activity.”
The changes also narrow Title IX misconduct to conduct that happens on campus or during off-campus events that the school controls, like sporting events or a campus fraternity house.
Narrowing the Reach of Title IX
Some of the changes to Title IX regulations will significantly narrow the scope of incidents that schools must pursue under federal rules. Because of the narrowing application of Title IX, many schools may adopt a two-pronged approach. If Princeton's approach is any indication, many schools may adopt a two-pronged approach to sexual misconduct disciplinary proceedings. While some incidents will no longer fall under Title IX, they still may constitute violations of a school's student code of conduct.
If you or your child face college disciplinary proceedings for sexual misconduct, whether through Title IX or a broader school sexual misconduct policy, you need an experienced student defense attorney to protect your rights. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has handled hundreds of Title IX and other student disciplinary cases at schools across the country. Call the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.