Unwilling to let a good crisis go to waste, the National Women’s Law Center last week fired off a missive to officials at the Department of Education demanding that they hold off on releasing new Title IX regulations on account of COVID-19.
Before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Education Department was poised to issue new regulations formalizing the obligations of schools to investigate fairly claims of sexual assault and harassment on campus. The regulations, which will carry the force of law, are long-overdue. Where once colleges and universities showed little interest in dealing with campus sexual misconduct, over the past decade, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Today, colleges and universities maintain massive sexual misconduct bureaucracies that police and discipline everything from racy jokes to drunken couplings to forcible rape.
In addition, as I have described elsewhere, these bureaucracies often employ Inquisition-like investigatory procedures that stack the deck against the accused by, among other things, eliminating the presumption of innocence and denying accused students any meaningful opportunity to tell their side of the story, present evidence, or question witnesses.
Since 2017, the Department of Education and the White House have been working to establish formal regulations that require schools to take claims of sexual misconduct seriously and provide fair process for all students.
The Administration released draft regulations more than a year ago and, since that time, has gone through the painstaking process of reviewing thousands of public comments.
Although the draft seeks fair treatment for both accusers and the accused, and provides schools with the tools to best ferret out the truth, activists have labeled the proposed rules “intimidating and stressful” — even “trauma-inducing” — for survivors.
In its letter to department officials, National Women’s Law Center, which opposes the new rules on the merits, says that “[n]ow is hardly the right time to push forward” with their release. NWLC claims that schools should spend their scarce resources on issues related to the pandemic, not reviewing new federal regulations. Moreover, NWLC argues that finalizing the proposed rule would “unnecessarily exacerbate confusion and uncertainty for students.”
Of course, with students gone for the indefinite future and Title IX officers with little to do in their absence, now would seem to be the perfect time for college administrators to review and revise their sexual misconduct policies. But, as Justin Dillon and KC Johnson point out in National Review Online, these arguments are obviously pretextual:
[I]t’s clear that these interest groups — and their political allies — are just trying to delay long enough for a new administration possibly to take over. The coronavirus crisis is unlikely to recede completely before the 2020 election. If Joe Biden wins, he will withdraw the proposed regulations immediately, which will be much harder to do if they’ve actually been implemented.
There’s another reason that NWLC wants to delay implementation: With students dispersed and sheltering at home, campus activists will be unable to engage in coordinated demonstrations aimed at pressuring college bureaucrats to ignore the rules.
All the more reason for the Administration to act now.