Stanford University is seeking feedback on draft Title IX policy revisions made to align with controversial new federal regulations for how colleges and universities respond to reports of sexual violence and harassment.
The new requirements, issued by the U.S. Department of Education under the leadership of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in May, take effect on Aug. 14. Advocates for sexual assault survivors have rallied against the rules, fearing they tip toward protecting the accused, and numerous lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality of the regulations, including by Democratic attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia. A U.S. Department of Education press release described the regulations as aiming to "restore due process in campus proceedings to ensure all students can pursue an education free from sex discrimination."
Stanford leaders acknowledged that some of the federal government's requirements will be met with criticism locally.
"In giving feedback, it's important to understand what is required by law and where Stanford has made choices," Provost Persis Drell said. "While we expect that many thoughtful individuals within the Stanford community will not agree with some of the requirements of the federal regulations, they are set by law and cannot be altered."
The new federal regulations, which apply to K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities, carry the force of the law, unlike former President Barack Obama's 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter, which provided guidance for how educational institutions should address reports of sexual misconduct. (DeVos rescinded the Obama administration's guidance in 2017.)
Stanford is seeking feedback on the draft policy from students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars and staff through the end of this week (the comment period ends Sunday, Aug. 9, at 5 p.m.)
Stanford's announcement notes that for the first time, the federal government is requiring a single Title IX hearing process for all faculty, students and staff. The process will include live hearings overseen by a "neutral" hearing officer, a person unaffiliated with Stanford who is experienced and trained in adjudicating matters of civil rights, sexual harassment and/or sexual violence, such as a retired judge, the draft policy states.
During the hearing process, both the alleged victim and accused will be allowed to have a support person with them who can directly cross-examine the other party and witnesses. For students, Stanford will provide up to two hours of consultation with an attorney from the hearing panel.
The hearing officer will decide whether the alleged conduct occurred based on a preponderance of the evidence standard, or that it's more likely than not that the conduct took place.
The federal regulations also require a narrower definition of sexual harassment than Stanford's. The draft policy defines sexual harassment as: "unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access" or "an employee of the university conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of the university on an individual's participation in unwelcome sexual conduct."
Reports of sexual misconduct that take place outside of the United States or that did not occur within a university program or activity now "fall outside of Title IX's jurisdiction."
The draft policy states that the accused party has a right to not have any discipline imposed before being formally found responsible for alleged conduct and "the right to be presumed not responsible for the alleged Title IX prohibited conduct until a determination regarding responsibility is made at the conclusion of the hearing."
Under the new regulations, universities can now dismiss complaints if the accused is no longer enrolled at or employed by the institution.
Universities also may no longer resolve complaints through informal agreements in cases involving a student making an allegation about a faculty or employee.
Stanford will, however, "continue to provide support and adopt policies that extend beyond the new federal regulations," the university press release states.
"Stanford is committed to ensuring an appropriate response to all allegations of sexual harassment and assault that occur within a Stanford program or activity, including acts that do not fall within Title IX's scope," said Lauren Schoenthaler, senior associate vice provost for institutional equity and access.
A university committee made up of professors and administrators developed the draft Title IX policy with input from Stanford's Faculty Advisory Board and an Associated Students of Stanford University advisory board on sexual assault.
Vice President and General Counsel Debra Zumwalt led the committee, whose members included Drell; Schoenthaler; law school professor Robert Weisberg; Laura Roberts, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources; and Stephanie Kalfayan, vice provost for academic affairs.
Roberts said in the release that compliance with the new regulations is necessary but acknowledged that "specific requirements will raise a number of challenges for our university community."
"It is essential — perhaps more than ever before — that we work together to implement policies and practices that are informed by the best evidence on trauma, resilience and recovery and that are grounded in principles of public health and restorative justice," she said.
Stanford released a list of frequently asked questions related to the Title IX revisions on Aug. 18.