United Academics Statement on Title IX

Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) plans to roll back provisions of the current federal policy addressing universities’ responsibilities towards survivors of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence on campus. The new statement includes the following changes: the removal of a requirement to provide a fixed timeline (previously 60 days) for Title IX investigations; allowing for mediation between survivors and accused; allowing for direct cross-examination of those who report sexual violence by the accused or by their representative; removing the requirement to allow those who report gender-based violence to appeal the results of the investigation; and allowing universities to increase the standard of evidence required in campus investigations.

The leadership of United Academics strongly believes that the University of Oregon should do everything possible to protect the civil and education rights of survivors of gender-based violence. Given that faculty and staff, as well as students, experience sexual harassment, relationship violence, and sexual violence, a strong Title IX policy benefits every member of our campus community. Like AFT’s national president, Randi Weingarten, we assert that rape culture on our campuses is real and must be treated seriously.

We commend President Schill for pledging that “The university remains strongly and unequivocally committed to providing services to survivors, encouraging those who have experienced sexual violence to seek our help and to being fair and equitable to all, including those accused.” We are reassured by his intention to continue to use the preponderance of evidence standard for deciding these cases.

Nonetheless, we are concerned about the possibility of introducing mediation as an option for resolving these cases. While we agree that some forms of restorative justice are promising for resolution of cases involving sexual violence, allowing for all types of mediation opens the door to survivors being pressured into processes they are not comfortable with. Mediation is not appropriate for cases in which two parties are unequal in status and power. Similarly, allowing for direct cross-examination of those who report sexual violence by the accused or their representative undermines the purpose of an independent investigation, in which a dedicated and impartial officer asks questions in a trauma-sensitive manner, both of the reporter and of the respondent. Direct cross-examinations have the potential to retraumatize survivors of assault and decrease the likelihood of survivors coming forward to report their assaults. Taken as a whole, these potential changes will discourage survivors of gender-based violence from coming forward to report these crimes.

United Academics supports all survivors of sexual, relationship, and gender-based violence and will continue to work to make our campus a safe and welcoming place for all students, faculty, and staff. We look forward to working with the administration to ensure that university policy and practices support our students, faculty, and staff throughout the investigation and resolution processes. We hope our university will resist implementing the very harmful options the OCR has made available to campuses and will do what they can to reverse this harmful guidance.