Title IX to Set College Harassment Policies

Sandy Hingston at Philadelphia Magazine has written an article for the September edition about the no-tolerance sexual harassment policies most colleges have. Colleges are not subject to disciplinary policies set by the government, but as concern over sexual harassment has grown in recent years, the government is using Title IX as a means to steer harassment rules in one direction. Title IX is the law passed in 1972 that allows government to withhold money from colleges it deems is practicing discrimination based on sex. The Department of Education is using it now to enact harassment policies that, Hingston argues, are stacked against college men.

[The] guidelines impose a paralyzing ‘nanny state’ on college campuses here in Philadelphia and across the country. At precisely the time in their lives when young men and women should be exploring what sexuality means, the new rules choke off their freedom, limit their choices, and encourage the canard that all males are unrepentant predators. What’s more, they position women as helpless victims who require bureaucratic protection from those males—victims with no responsibility for their own behavior.

The new guidelines under Title IX amount to a one-strike-you’re-out policy, where men accused of sexual harassment are automatically investigated by a hearing board. They are not allowed a lawyer, nor are they allowed to speak to their accusers. Doing so constitutes as intimidation. The board makes the ultimate decision about whether or not to allow the defendant to stay in school, but investigations often boil down to a he-said-she-said situation, and more often than not they go to the woman. Sexual harassment in these scenarios is defined as when a man makes any sexual contact without a woman’s express permission. If a girl is intoxicated, she automatically loses the ability to permit.

The proponents for the new guidelines count Brett Sokolow, founder of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, which represents colleges and advises them on how to stay on the good side of the federal government. They also have women’s rights activist Wendy Murphy in their corner. Murphy signed on when she saw firsthand the way colleges would ignore or downplay students’ complaints about harassment.

Opponents include Samantha Harris, who works at the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who believes the new rules violate the due process rights of accused They also include Kris Clarkson, the dean of students at Juniata College who believes the government is encroaching on the rights of colleges to make decisions about sexual harassment when they deal with real-life examples.

In any case, both sides agree the new rules are extreme. But that extremity is a good thing, argue the proponents, who want to, as Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali put it, “change the culture.” And as for college men, Brett Sokolow says “it’s their job…to err on the side of caution.”

Hingston points out that the new rules are drastically more stringent than federal law. “There’s rarely enough evidence to convict in a real court.”The rules’ opponents can count Hingston in their corner, but this is true regardless. But if the ambiguous nature of intention and sexual desire keeps the law on sexual harassment vague, now colleges are, willingly or not, standing on the side of victim’s rights.

Justin Spees

Justin Spees is an intern at the Washington Monthly.