In light of the United States Department of Education’s decision to remove some procedural guidelines in sexual assault investigations on college campuses, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank released a statement Saturday reaffirming UW’s support for Title IX protections.
Blank said UW’s procedures regarding sexual assault and Title IX will stay the same.
The DoE announcement said the “Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence” and “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence” will be eliminated from Title IX.
The 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter was sent from the Department of Education under President Barack Obama’s presidency to all American universities outlining the preponderance-of-evidence standard, which colleges must use when investigating instances of sexual assault, the announcement said.
The other document of Title IX which will be removed, “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,” is a 2014 statement which further clarified and explained the policies laid out in the 2011 letter, the announcement said.
According to the announcement, legal commentators have criticized these documents for pressuring universities to adopt procedures that are not fundamentally fair.
“The 2011 and 2014 guidance documents may have been well-intentioned, but those documents have led to the deprivation of rights for many students — both accused students denied fair process and victims denied an adequate resolution of their complaints,” Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights in the DoE, said in the announcement.
Under the current guidelines, colleges must follow specific preponderance-of-evidence standards when investigating instances of student-on-student sexual assault. According to the announcement, these guidelines were created with the intention of protecting sexual assault victims.
Now that these guidelines are revoked, colleges will have more leeway in how they investigate sexual assault, with the intention of protecting the rights of the accused.
“Schools face a confusing and counterproductive set of regulatory mandates, and the objective of regulatory compliance has displaced Title IX’s goal of educational equity,” Jackson said in the announcement.
UW’s policies, based off of the UW System administrative code, currently include due process elements like those in the Department of Education letter, according to Blank’s statement. Blank said she will wait for more information and guidance from the Department of Education as the process continues.
“We work to ensure that our process is prompt, fair and impartial,” Blank said. “Both parties have equal participation rights throughout any investigation and disciplinary procedures.”
Blank cited UW’s participation in an Association of American Universities survey as part of the school’s efforts to educate all students on sexual assault and sexual violence.
The survey was taken by 22 percent of UW students, and UW was one of the 26 AAU schools who participated in the survey.
“We are committed to making our campus a safe environment for all students,” Blank said. “Sexual violence and harassment have no place here.”