When a New York university expelled a “John Doe” for sexual assault, he fought back. Federal Judge David Hurd granted an injunction against the school, finding that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was tripping over itself in eagerness to avoid following Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s new Title IX regulations requiring colleges to respect due process rights for the accused — rights to which Joe Biden has promised a “quick end” if he is elected.
Hurd joins an increasingly large crowd of jurists who find themselves ruling against universities in cases of alleged sexual assault. Aggrieved young men have filed more than 600 lawsuits against their colleges, and so far, nearly half have resulted in rulings in their favor. What is going on? Under President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education weaponized Title IX, the 1972 law that forbids sex discrimination in education.
The Office for Civil Rights bypassed legislative and even regulatory channels to issue a “dear colleague” advisory letter to college presidents threatening their access to federal funding if they failed to implement radical changes in the way campuses respond to reports of sexual assault. The “dear colleague” rules brushed aside nearly all due process protections and lowered the standard of evidence for a guilty finding to a derisory level. Title IX became a synonym for “guilty if accused.” Think of it as the recipe for the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
‘Dear Colleague’ Letter Dispensed with Civil Rights
This new Title IX regime caused countless problems and subsequent outrage, and Trump’s secretary of education took notice. DeVos countered the “dear colleague” letter with actual regulations that took effect in August.
In the decade since the Obama–Biden “dear colleague” was launched, however, a campus Title IX bureaucracy sprang up. The Title-IX-o-crats luxuriated in unchecked power. Although the number of true sexual assaults on campus appears very small, these Title IX officers have built their empire on ever-expanding definitions of assault and on a campaign to brand themselves as champions of campus sexual liberation.
Those two things don’t sound like an easy match. Imposing bureaucratic oversight on student sexual activity would seem to run in the opposite direction from promoting promiscuity on campus — but don’t underestimate feminist ingenuity. Both are about what is styled “sexual wellness.”
“Dear colleague” required colleges to invest Title IX officers with broad powers with virtually no oversight, leading to today’s lack of due process. These officers have often run roughshod over their campuses, as in the famous Laura Kipnis affair at Northwestern University, in which a professor was charged with “sexual harassment” for publishing an essay that criticized the excesses of Title IX.
The National Association of Scholars has just completed a study — titled “Dear Colleague” (what else?) — that explores who exactly these Title IX officers are. Perhaps it is no surprise that these officers are almost always women. Many Title IX departments have no men on staff.
Their academic backgrounds are disproportionately feminist disciplines, such as women’s studies, gender studies, or the newly developed field of gender-based violence. Although they are effectively judges in the cases before them, they generally have no courtroom experience, much less criminal-defense experience, where due process rights for the accused are everyday fare.
Title IX Officers Love Hookups In Theory, But Not Reality
What these officers do bring to this arena is a robust enthusiasm for campus hookup culture. “We encourage healthy hookups,” explained Virginia Tech’s Women Center co-director, who’s participated in many Title IX cases. Her focus is “what we can do as a culture,” adding, “It’s never the victim’s fault.”
When the nonprofit Catharsis Productions was recently invited to campus to perpetuate that culture, its “teachers” exhorted students: “You go get an orgasm!” and “Go hook up with people! Have a good time!” In online ads, Catharsis President Gail Stern explains the need for “top-down cultural reform” specifically within higher education to promote healthy hookups.
The National Association of Scholars found a surfeit of this sort of promotion at all the Title IX offices visited. At James Madison University, the message was, “Here we are really all about student autonomy and pleasure, whether you’re a person with a penis or a person with a vagina.”
This message is conjoined with stern reminders that men are aggressors with whom the danger of sexual assault is always present. At SUNY Geneseo, a prominent announcement warns in all caps and pronominal chaos: “Your abuse is never your fault. It’s their actions, their words, their injuries.”
DeVos’s reforms are a step in the right direction, but it is a step stoutly resisted by the feminist Title IX establishment — and some establishment Democrats. Four lawsuits have been filed against the new regulations. One, in Maryland, was just dismissed by a court that found the plaintiffs lacked standing. Another, in Massachusetts, is scheduled for trial Nov. 12.
The date is significant. Biden has promised to quickly snuff out these new rules if he is elected.
Teresa R. Manning, JD, is Director of the Title IX Project at the National Association of Scholars. She has taught at Scalia Law School of George Mason University, the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College, and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump Administration.