- Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate came together to introduce a bill that would hold top university officials accountable for their response to campus sexual abuse allegations during their tenure. The bill requires at least one member of a college or university board and president, or an equivalent leader, to certify that they have reviewed all cases of sexual abuse and that they have not “inappropriately influenced” an investigation.
- In wake of the fall out from campus sex abuse scandals at Michigan State University this year, and Penn State University in 2011, sponsors of the bill say university leaders need to do more to protect students from sexual abuse, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Senators said that in the past, leaders have escaped accountability, claiming they were unaware of sexual abuse reports by university employees, even as official investigations were conducted. They also said that universities need to take sex abuse reports more seriously.
Joshua Richards, partner and the Vice-Chair of the Higher Education Practice at the Philadelphia-based Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, shared his concern that the bill would burden college presidents in administrative paperwork, and though supportive of the bill's intent, he believes, "Regulators would be better served continuing to focus on the experts who work in the trenches on these issues every day."
But many, including the senators who introduced the bill, believe campus leaders are not doing enough to protect victims on campus and are calling for more skin in the game in these types of cases. In the case of Michigan State University, leaders failed to act on allegations that occurred over a 20 year period, involving more than 150 women against a single employee. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights division reported that the university inadequately responded to sex abuse allegations. Adding to injury, MSU Chairman of the Board Joel Ferguson dismissed the allegations. While it’s not clear how much MSU board members and president knew, the above evidence suggests a flippant approach to sex abuse allegations.
Victims advocates have decried changes to Title IX guidance by the department as being exactly the type of change which will allow more of these cases to go uninvestigated, but others point to a need to ensure the accused get a chance at due process. And though ultimately it is the Executive Branch which typically is responsible for providing the guidance on how legislation is to be interpreted and carried out, campus leaders should expect to see more on sexual assault from Members of Congress, whether addressed in this separate bill or in legislation to re-authorize the Higher Education Act.