Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announces intent to change Title IX policy

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Alice Langford/File

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her intent to change the current Title IX policy Thursday.

Title IX is a sexual misconduct policy that applies to all educational institutions that receive federal funds. The legislation was passed by Congress to ensure that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In her speech at the Arlington campus of George Mason University, DeVos called Title IX a “failed system.”

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said in her speech. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved. That’s why we must do better — because the current approach isn’t working.”

Although DeVos did not outline specific policy changes in her speech, she emphasized her dissatisfaction that the current system lacks due process. She added that due process should not just be “an abstract legal principle only discussed in lecture halls,” but one that should be clearly defined and enforced under Title IX.

“Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” DeVos said. “A better way begins with a reframing. … We will seek public feedback and combine institutional knowledge, professional expertise and the experiences of students to replace the current approach with a workable, effective and fair system.”

UC President Janet Napolitano released an emailed statement Thursday morning in response to DeVos’s announcement, which she called “extremely troubling.”

Napolitano said in her statement that state law and federal regulations remain in effect to protect survivors and prohibit sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH. She emphasized the university’s commitment to protecting students and staff from SVSH while still maintaining a fair process for everyone involved.

“Even in the midst of unwelcome change and uncertainty, the university’s commitment to a learning environment free of sexual violence and sexual harassment will not waver,” Napolitano said in her statement. “UC will continue its work to foster a culture of safety and security on all its campuses.”

Under Napolitano’s leadership, the university has taken various steps to prevent SVSH and respond more effectively to reports of SVSH across the UC system, including requiring the Title IX officers at each campus to inform chancellors when the office begins an investigation of a faculty member.

Last spring, The Daily Californian received documents from the University of California that revealed 124 cases of sexual misconduct under Title IX across the UC system. Among these cases were 19 UC Berkeley employees, including former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry, who was accused of sexual harassment by his former assistant Tyann Sorrell, as well as former vice chancellor for research Graham Fleming, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former campus employee.

The UC Berkeley administration has also implemented several policy changes to handle SVSH cases, such as providing the Office for Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment with additional resources to more effectively investigate cases of SVSH.

Chancellor Carol Christ and Special Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor on SVSH Sharon Inkelas also released an emailed statement Thursday afternoon to address DeVos’s proposed repeal of Title IX.

“UC Berkeley, like the Office of the President of the University of California, stands firmly in support of the profoundly important policies enacted in recent years that seek to ensure a more efficient and fair system for all parties in cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence,” Christ and Inkelas said in their statement. “We want to assure you that the campus remains firmly committed to that ideal.”

Chantelle Lee is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.