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DeVos, Title IX and what's next

September 28, 2017
Hannah Administration Building on Aug. 29, 2015. Courtney Kendler/The State News
Hannah Administration Building on Aug. 29, 2015. Courtney Kendler/The State News —

The U.S. Department of Education is rescinding the previous administration's school sexual assault guidance, it was announced Friday. While a formal review is undertaken, the department has issued a Q&A document for schools on how to investigate allegations of campus sexual misconduct under federal law.

The department is withdrawing the Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence from 2011 and the Questions and Answers on Title IX Sexual Violence from 2014, according to a press release from the Department of Education on Friday.

The department also intends to revamp Title IX responsibilities, U.S. Secretary of Eduction Betsy DeVos announced Sept. 7, 2017 in a speech where she vowed to roll back the previous administration's "failed" policies on sexual assault.

However, no new proposed procedures have been released.

All MSU can do is wait.

"Every week I get told that there will be new guidance coming out, and right now, there's really no material, so we're just continuing to run our normal processes until they're changed," MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said during an ASMSU meeting Thursday. Simon "It's very hard for me to determine, based on what Secretary DeVos has said, what's going to happen."

One of DeVos' goals will be to create a workable, effective and fair system that takes the accused party's rights into consideration more explicitly, she said during her speech.

Jessica Norris, MSU's director of Title IX and ADA compliance and education programs, said MSU's current process involves preserving rights of both parties.

"We are keenly aware that both students engage in the process, so a claimant and a respondent," Norris said. "They're both our students and they both have rights. And so as we have crafted our policies and procedures here, we have taken appropriate steps to make sure that due process is provided to both parties and the rights of both parties are preserved throughout."

DeVos said the potential policy changes would go through the "normal rule making process," where the changes would be revealed ahead of time and there would be a comment period. 

Feedback usually comes by way of formal town hall and regional meetings that would be conducted by the Department of Education, Simon said.

"I don't have any sense at this point of what type of recommendations or proposal they might put forward, but I am encouraged by the thought that they will have an opportunity for individuals such as MSU — or organizations such as MSU, I should say — to take a look at their proposed rule and possibly weigh in," Norris said.

However, Simon said things could change regardless of the gathered feedback.

"We also don't know, again, if she's going to change things before the rule making process or whether everything will stay in place until the rule making process is complete. So we'll just have to stay tuned."

In the meantime, MSU is in the process of utilizing a third party to review the university Title IX policy. MSU hired the law firm Husch Blackwell in early September to perform the review, which was announced last spring.

In its review, Husch Blackwell will focus on Title IX compliance, programs for prevention and education, support services for crisis and advocacy, awareness and outreach and campus feedback. The review is expected to take "several months."

The review of MSU's Title IX program follows a year of controversy surrounding issues of sexual assault at MSU, including ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar and allegations of sexual assault against three ex-MSU football players.

After the conclusion of the review, a report will outline the assessment and recommendations.

"This is during a time of national discussion about Title IX policy," Simon said. "There is a set of issues that we have to look at as a university community. That's why we're doing the Husch Blackwell Title IX review that was planned six months, a year ago. To look at it not from the perspective of filling gaps or what we should do, but what are the best practices around the Big Ten or around universities that take care of some issues that are real in our current process."

"When changes from the Department of Education regarding Title IX policy are released, there are a number of things MSU will have to navigate," Simon said.

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"One is what she will do — what they will do — in terms of rescinding current guidance. Second piece is what they will do to devolve decisions to universities or the states," Simon said. "The third issue is how to make the process more sustainable through all of the court challenges that are happening on both sides of the process. Because it does no good to go through the process and be re-victimized in the legal process."

Simon also acknowledged the first step in the review — looking at MSU's policies. Each year, MSU's Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct, or RVSM, policy, is updated.

MSU's RVSM policy was updated at the end of August. Changes to the RVSM policy ranged from editing for clarification to adding new appendices, Norris told The State News in a previous article.

The biggest changes include new sanction guidelines, clarifying the process and employee responsibilities, updating the appeal process and adding a new glossary with updated definitions, Norris said.

Alongside Simon at ASMSU's Thursday meeting was Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., who expressed his thoughts on DeVos' original speech.

"While I am severely disappointed by Betsy DeVos and almost everything she does, I think this was a huge slap in the face for those that care about this," Hertel said. "The more that we talk about it, the more we tell our stories, the more it changes culture. And that's what we have to do, we have to change the culture. It's the first step."

Simon said during the meeting her personal position and her official position will not always line up.

"Senator Hertel has a luxury that I do not have, which is that I have to comply with the law," Simon said. "Which is, I'm saying that no matter who is in the office, I can rail against it, but ultimately I have to find a way to comply with it even though I don't personally agree with it."


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