AAUP Comments on Proposed Changes to Title IX Regulations

By Anita Levy

The AAUP submitted comments in January on amendments proposed by the Department of Education to the regulations governing the implementation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimi­nation in federally funded education programs. The AAUP responded, in particular, to a question posed by the Department of Education about “the applicability of the rule to employees . . . [and] whether there are any parts of the proposed rule that will prove unworkable in the context of sexual harassment by employees, and whether there are any unique circumstances that apply to processes involving employees that the Department should con­sider.” The AAUP’s comments were directed to the “unique circumstanc­es” of faculty in higher education.

The comments focus on the ultimate failure of the department’s proposed regulations to specify the importance of academic freedom and shared governance for Title IX proceedings. They also object to proposed regulations that unduly narrow the scope of protections against sexual harassment. As the AAUP’s 2016 report The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX notes, while colleges, universities, and the Department of Education focus on the sexual dimensions of sex discrimination, the plain language of Title IX is meant to protect those on campus more broadly from unequal access to educational resources, wage disparities, and inequitable represen­tation across the university system.

The AAUP’s comments encour­age the Department of Education, as well as colleges and universities, to take note of the recommenda­tions in our Title IX report and to work to improve the working and learning conditions of all campus constituents. Such improvements should include fully committing to interdisciplinary learning on cam­pus by adequately funding gender, feminist, and sexuality studies, as well as allied disciplines, as part of an effort to teach about all forms of inequality, including inequalities based on race, gender identity, dis­ability, class, geographic location, and sexual orientation.

The comments urge the Depart­ment of Education to adopt regulations that define sexual harassment broadly enough to prohibit conduct that creates a hostile environment; protect free­dom of speech and, in particular, the academic freedom of faculty in their teaching and research; protect due process in investigations and hearings; and endorse shared gov­ernance to bring faculty expertise and institutional knowledge into developing and implementing poli­cies related to Title IX.