Title IX under review

Last week, President Biden ordered a review of the Department of Education’s policies and regulations to ensure an "educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex," including sexual orientation and gender identity. He also directed the Secretary of Education to review a controversial rule enacted last year that overhauled the disciplinary process for sexual misconduct.

The rule, put in place by Betsy DeVos during her tenure as Secretary of Education, changed the disciplinary process for those accused of sexual misconduct at universities. Some of the changes included requiring that complainants and respondents to complaints can be cross-examined in live hearings. At Carnegie Mellon, the rule led to the creation and adoption of an interim Sexual Misconduct Policy.

Speaking on the review of the rules under the new administration, Carnegie Mellon University Spokesperson Jason Maderer said, "While the recent executive order by President Biden signals the intent to change Title IX regulations, the existing Title IX regulations issued by the prior administration remain in effect unless and until new regulations are enacted by the U.S. Department of Education." Maderer continued, "In anticipation of further changes to Title IX regulations, the university is extending the interim status of the Sexual Misconduct Policy. Once new regulations are issued, the university will revise the policy as necessary and move towards the adoption of a new final policy." Maderer directed students to send any comments on the interim policy to the Office of Title IX Initiatives.

The rule DeVos championed was controversial. It received over 120,000 public comments, and after the rule was finalized in May of last year, 17 states and the District of Columbia sued to stop its implementation. The lawsuit was dismissed and the rule went into effect on Aug. 14. Carnegie Mellon University announced its new Sexual Misconduct Policy Aug. 12 in an email from the provost.

Carnegie Mellon University's Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) also submitted a comment on the rule before it was finalized. While praising some changes, like allowing both complainants and respondents to appeal a case, the GSA expressed concern over other parts of the rule. For example, in response to the requirement that representatives are allowed to cross-examine complainants, the GSA wrote, "Questioning the survivors of assault can retraumatize them, especially in a live hearing."

GSA Vice President for External Affairs Divyansh Kaushik, who was one of the signees, noted, "Department of Education Title IX rules are the floor, they're not the ceiling." Kaushik noted that the rule leaves the decision of whether to pursue Title IX proceedings for some off-campus sexual misconduct cases up to schools, so they do not need to pursue these cases to receive Title IX funds. In their comment, the GSA also objected to this provision leaving the decision of whether to pursue cases occurring off-campus up to schools, noting that Carnegie Mellon does not have housing on campus for graduate students. This provision remained in the final rule, but schools can still prohibit this conduct, as Carnegie Mellon University's interim Sexual Misconduct Policy strictly prohibits off-campus misconduct. The interim policy has kept other standards from the previous Sexual Misconduct Policy, such as using the "preponderance of evidence" (more likely than not) standard to determine whether respondents are responsible.

Kaushik worries about sexual violence at Carnegie Mellon University. "How often do we have a proactive discussion about sexual violence on campus? Never," Kaushik said. He added, "There are a lot of problems at CMU, and some of them are due to the federal government, but most of them are due to the inactions of the university administration."