- Colleges and universities are facing a rise in highly publicized sexual misconduct cases and confusing guidance from the federal government and the courts, The Wall Street Journal reports, at the same time the Trump administration is preparing to narrow the definition of what qualifies as sexual assault and restrict incidents to those on campus.
- A federal appeals court covering four Midwestern states recently ruled that those accused of sexual misconduct have the right to face their accusers, and other states are considering changes to the legal requirements for handling such cases.
- Institutions are uncertain about the direction they should take, The Journal reports, though some are trying new ways to resolve sexual misconduct cases, such as hiring retired judges to conduct hearings and through restorative justice.
The Journal previously reported that 22 of some of the most prominent universities the in the country made 59 sexual harassment settlements worth $10.5 million during 2016 and 2017. Most cases involved victims claiming the institutions mishandled their cases or didn't adequately punish those charged. A Michigan State University researcher has collected a list of more than 700 cases of sexual misconduct at colleges and universities dating back to 1917, with most of them recorded since 2000.
The process for handling campus sexual misconduct claims has gotten increasing attention in the #MeToo era and after high-profile cases such as those at Michigan State and Penn State University, which focused both on sexual abuse by university employees and how administrators mishandled or ignored complaints.
Colleges say it can be confusing to determine how to handle some of these cases, on campus and off campus, to meet Title IX requirements and Education Department interpretations of the law.
The tone of the issues has shifted as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has moved to loosen regulations governing how colleges report sexual misconduct and raise the legal standard for determining whether institutions have adequately addressed complaints. The moves are in opposition to Obama administration guidance that colleges claimed was too restrictive. DeVos says loosening the rules will save colleges money, although some experts disagree and say institutions still will face lawsuits and won't be able to cut staff or training.
Students also are demanding changes in campus policies, most recently at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where more than 100 student protestors held an impromptu march to the administrative offices and met with the university's president, requesting changes in how the institution handles sexual assault. The students were backing two graduates who claim in a lawsuit against the university and the local police that they were raped while undergraduates and that the charges were mishandled or ignored.