In a response to the 2015 revisions, campus administrators around the country have gone well beyond the parameters set by the Department of Education.
This has, according to some educators and other critics, resulted in a rash of students being tried for rape and other serious crimes by unofficial “kangaroo” courts rather than being channeled into the criminal justice system where investigators and prosecutors have the knowledge and experience to handle them properly.
Title IX is best known for its role in the 1970s. It abolished discrimination in women’s sports, but it actually has a much broader scope; it protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
Title IX says, “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.”
What Critics Say About Title IX
The revision’s critics have focused their concerns on the requirements that university adjudicators apply only a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard for determining whether an accused individual is responsible for sexually related crime.
Under that standard, the defendant is liable if the adjudicator determines that there is more than a 50 percent chance that the defendant has committed that type of act. The standard is significant in that it is far less stringent than the “beyond-a-reasonable-doubt” requirement for criminal prosecutions. This makes the potential for mistaken findings of guilt far greater.
Clearly—and in the best interests for the safety of students nationwide—the government has sent a message to schools that they must adopt more effective procedures to address sexual misconduct on campus, rather than turning a blind eye to the issue and leaving it entirely for the criminal justice system to sort out.
In June of last year, Teresa Buchannan, a tenured professor of education at the Louisiana State University was fired from her position of twenty years after using “off-color” language in class (she used the “F-word” in a non-sexual context). Indeed, a faculty committee determined that there was no evidence that her words were “systematically directed at any individual.” Nevertheless, the committee said her language created a “hostile learning environment” that constituted sexual harassment.
Buchanan’s firing came on the heels of an investigation of Laura Kipnis, a feminist film professor at Northwestern. Kipnis was famously brought up on charges under Title IX as a result of an essay she wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe.”
Again, critics in the legal community were quick to point out that there is nothing in Title IX or its implementation regulations that requires universities to fire either professor.
What Do You Think?
Do you think the institutions mentioned here went too far with their interpretations of Title IX? What would you have done in a similar situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so share them with me on Facebook or on Twitter!