NYU Urges Betsy DeVos Not to Change University Sexual Misconduct Policies

NYU sent a letter to the Department of Education opposing the proposed Title IX changes, following other higher education groups and universities.

NYU Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs, Lynne Brown (Courtesy of NYU)

NYU declared its opposition to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed changes to how universities deal with cases of sexual misconduct under Title IX in a letter sent Tuesday, adding to the 100,000 comments submitted in response to the Department of Education’s proposals.

In a press release from November, the Department of Education said its proposed changes were designed to provide the greatest level of transparency for schools, survivors and those accused of misconduct. This transparency, according to the statement, would come from implementing measures such as cross-examinations and a uniform evidence standard across all disciplinary proceedings.

Senior Vice President of University Relations and Public Affairs Lynne Brown’s letter in response asserts that the present Title IX standards ensure fairness for both accusers and accused parties in cases of sexual misconduct.

Higher education groups such as the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities released statements prior to NYU’s letter denouncing the department’s proposed modifications.

While Brown said the statements made by such higher education groups accurately reflect the views of the university, NYU wanted to demonstrate its explicit support for maintaining the current procedures for dealing with cases of sexual misconduct.

“It does register if you issue a rule and only a few responses are received versus if you issue a rule and have tens of thousands of responses,” Brown said. “We wanted to add to the weight of responses received. We don’t do this on everything but we do it on issues we care about.”

A certain number of comments does not guarantee proposed rules will or will not go through. However, the submission of 100,000 public comments does reveal a higher public engagement than is typical.

These comments came from a range of sources including concerned individuals, advocacy groups and other universities, including letters sent from the Harvard Law School faculty, the Brown University president and the SUNY chancellor.

“The general assumption is that if you don’t say anything about something, it means you can live with it,” Brown said.

Brown expressed concern about the cross-examinations and evidence standard in the letter, as well as potential conflict with existing state law that mandates procedures for sexual misconduct cases and the department’s proposed employee procedural process for cases.

“Ultimately, we believe this new policy is a solution looking for a problem, and could damage a system that is currently working effectively and fairly,” Brown wrote in an earlier statement to WSN.

The department originally announced the changes in November, opening a public comment period of 60 days. The period ended Wednesday, the day after the university submitted the letter.

The NYU students contacted for this article were largely unaware of the university’s publicly stated opposition.

“I’m still unaware of the content of the letter,” Tisch sophomore Michael Morran said. “I think NYU should have made that more public. I’m kind of surprised hearing all these things about what’s going on.”

While GLS first-year Yesenia Leon supports the content of the university’s letter, she also believes it should have been released directly to the students.

“I think they should have emailed it out,” Leon said. “This has to do with sexual assault and, being on a university campus, that is something that a lot of students do face.”

Brown, however, noted that the letter was sent out in the NYU Weekly newsletter and tweeted by the NYU Government Affairs account in addition to being posted on NYU’s website.

DeVos’ proposed changes are still subject to potential amendments and congressional pushback before they are actually implemented. Their passing could cause conflict with various state laws, including those of New York. Brown anticipates that if the changes did go into effect, litigation would probably ensue.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” Brown said. “At the moment we’re just here and there have been now proposed changes through final approval. So we will still operate under the existing Title IX guidance until that process plays itself out.”

Email Bethany Allard at [email protected] 

 

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