Boston University President Robert Brown published a letter Thursday to the U.S. Department of Education opposing proposed changes to federal Title IX regulations that he wrote would “impair the University’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the law to stop harassment and discrimination.”
The changes, proposed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, would provide students accused of sexual misconduct with greater protections and narrow the definition of sexual assault universities are required to act on.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, according to the Department of Education.
Brown’s letter stated that he does not believe the proposed changes would promote student safety and well-being.
“While we recognize the time and thought the Department has put into the proposed changes, we do not believe they adequately address this key consideration,” Brown wrote, “and, instead, would limit rather than secure the ability of students to seek redress when subjected to harassment or discrimination.”
Maureen Mahoney, director of BU’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center, wrote in an email that she was pleased to read Brown’s letter.
“The SARP counselors agree that that the changes proposed to Title IX would deter survivor/victims from pursuing resolution and being able to continue their education,” she wrote. “Looking at the proposed amendments through a clinical lens highlights how problematic they are.”
Mahoney wrote that she agreed with Brown that the requirement of a live hearing with cross-examination would create “an intimidating, court-like setting.”
“This setting does not include the minimal protections provided victim/survivors by the Commonwealth in a court of law,” she wrote.
Mahoney also said she took issue with the changes that require all parties have access to any material provided during the investigation and restrict where incidents have to occur in order to be addressed by a university.
“Restricting the University from adjudicating violations that occur in off-campus housing or study abroad programs or conferences etc.; requiring the University to dismiss complaints that do not fit the proposed narrow definition of harassment combine to our students at great risk,” she wrote.
BU spokesperson Colin Riley also said he had an issue with the new geographical restrictions universities would face when seeking to look into incidents.
“The students wouldn’t be in the city if not for Boston University, so it’s in our interest, and it’s in the students interest that their conduct meets the university’s expectation,” Riley said. “All people of good will want to make sure there is a system in place that works in the best interests of the safety and security of the students and the safety of the community.”
Virginia Sapiro, a professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email that she was heartened to read about Brown’s letter.
“His warnings about negative outcomes from these rules changes are exactly right — he joins a large number of experts who have been issuing cautions about the changes,” Sapiro wrote.
Allison Backus, a sophomore in the College of General Studies, said she agreed with Brown’s rejection of the proposal.
“It’s dangerous for something like sexual assault to be limited to a very narrow scope,” Backus said, “because there are a lot of things it doesn’t cover.”
Emily Croteau, a senior in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, disagreed with the proposed change as well, specifically on the matter of an accuser being forced to undergo a cross-examination.
“As a victim it would be extremely awkward and uncomfortable to see the perpetrator in person,” Croteau said. “It would reduce the number of people reporting.”