As DOE Releases New “Dear Colleague” Letter, Gettysburg Plans to Stay the Course

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

By Benjamin Pontz, Managing News Editor

Weeks after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her intention to roll back enhanced federal regulations surrounding campus sexual assault reporting and investigation procedures, the Department of Education (DOE) released a new “Dear Colleague” letter to that effect Friday. DOE also released a document containing questions and answers explaining colleges’ obligations under Title IX.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Candice Jackson wrote, “The
Department remains committed to enforcing these critical [Title IX] protections and intends to do so consistent with its mission under Title IX to protect fair and equitable access to education.”

However, DOE has eliminated the requirement for colleges to use the controversial “preponderance of the evidence” standard in sexual assault investigations, permitting a return to the “clear and convincing evidence” standard if colleges so choose. This permits colleges to establish appeal procedures that restrict that right to the accused and eliminates the Obama era requirement that investigations conclude within 60 days of a complaint.

Gettysburg College, whose procedures comply with previous DOE guidance, does not plan to change its policy despite the loosening of restrictions.

“I think it is fair to say that the college will continue its legal and procedural review of changes permitted or mandated by the Department of Education,” said Julie Ramsey, Vice President of College Life and Dean of Students, in an email.”[W]e have no immediate plans to alter our approach. We will continue to monitor the DOE process and outcome.”

DOE plans to conduct a formal review of Obama era guidelines and potentially issue new regulations in the coming months after allowing for public comment.

Jennifer McCary, Associate Dean for Violence Prevention and Resolution and Title IX Coordinator, told The Gettysburgian earlier this month that she believes in the institutional adjudication model, but hopes that institutions will have more options for resolution in the future.

“[T]here are flaws to the current structure that the Department of Education has outlined. More can be done in order for the process to support survivors and provide fundamental fairness to the accused,” McCary said. “Here at Gettysburg College, we strive to support all of our students while remaining compliant with the law.”

Gettysburg College’s Office of Communications did not respond to a request for comment.

The Gettysburg College Investigation and Resolution Process

According to the Student Handbook, the college conducts a “fact-finding investigation” in response to all reports of sexual misconduct, and, if the victim desires to become a reporting party, an adjudication process can ensue upon completion of the investigation. If an initial investigation determines there is sufficient information to proceed, the case can proceed to an informal resolution process when specific criteria are met or to the formal resolution process.

In the formal adjudication process, the Dean of Students, who may choose to designate a hearing panel, reviews reports from a conduct administrator and statements from the reporting and responding parties, and, using the preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e. it is “more likely than not” an outcome occurred), reaches a decision. That decision can be appealed by either the reporting or the responding party if specific criteria are met, and the result of the appeal is final. Both the reporting and responding parties may have an advisor throughout the process, although that advisor may not speak during meetings with investigators.

After The Gettysburgian initially published this article, Ramsey reached out with an additional statement, which appears below:

“Several days ago, the Department of Education (DOE) announced a decision to withdraw the 2011 and 2014 guidance on Title IX and signaled that additional changes would be forthcoming to Title IX regulations after a public comment period. This announcement has raised a number of questions about potential  changes in institutional policy.  In response, it is important to note two things. First, the college will review the full set of DOE changes after new rules are announced.  We will not be making piecemeal changes in the interim unless mandated by law to do so.

Secondly, it is important to note that many of the policies and procedures that we follow related to sexual misconduct and relationship violence are established as Federal Law in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Amendments to the Clery Act.  Those statues are law, not guidance, and the college will continue to follow those protocols.  For additional information about the College’s approach to Title IX related issues, please see the September 21st issue of the Gettysburgian or visit the Violence Prevention/Title IX website at www.gettysburg.edu/titleix

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as managing news editor of The Gettysburgian, a position he has held since the middle of his first year, during which he wrote 50 articles on topics ranging from student activism on campus to sports. Ben also served as the event coverage and social media coordinator and led the paper's inaugural efforts using Facebook Live and live tweeting events on campus. He is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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