ICYMI: SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson’s Op-Ed in Albany Times Union on how Proposed Title IX Changes Would Make College Campuses Less Safe

February 24, 2019

Albany – Today, Albany Times Union published an op-ed by SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson and CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz on how proposed Department of Education changes to Title IX will make college campuses less safe. The text of the op-ed is available here and below.

Colleges and universities across New York State find themselves at a crossroads in the ways they safeguard students and staff from sexual harassment and assault. As the leaders of New York's two great public university systems, we strive every day to provide an educational climate free of sexual misconduct to some 1.5 million students and more than 135,000 faculty and staff members at more than 90 institutions across the state. But proposed Department of Education regulatory changes would hamper our ability to do so, which imperils our core mission of offering educational opportunity to all.

The Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seek to significantly alter Title IX, the law that protects students and staff from sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. The proposed regulations would turn Title IX as we know it on its head. Where Title IX has long protected those whose educational access was restricted due to harassment or assault, these proposed revisions seem to have one primary goal: protecting those accused of harassment or assault.

In each application, the regulations swing the balance to protect the accused at the expense of the person who experienced the violence or harassment.

The proposal severely narrows the definition of what is considered "sexual harassment," where victims are protected from such conduct, and to whom they may report it. The effect will be to significantly discourage the formal adjudication of a complaint.

The proposed revisions add a host of highly prescriptive, costly procedures for universities to follow in handling complaints, including requiring cross-examination of each party at a hearing; and the right of all parties to review all evidence obtained by a college in an investigation, including students' sexual or medical history and statements of other students interviewed, even when the evidence is irrelevant to the process.

The federal government would limit its ability to hold a university accountable for failing to serve a person who reports sexual misconduct, so long as the campuses' minimal grievance procedure is followed, but reserves the right to overturn an institution's finding of responsibility against an accused student (equivalent to guilt) for failure to dutifully follow the prescriptive due process procedures.

The proposed revisions are wrongheaded in their approach and would not serve the best interest of students, especially socially and economically disadvantaged students served by institutions like ours and who, national data shows, are more likely to suffer sexual assault and less likely to report it. They would make our nation's campuses less safe, with victims of sexual harassment and assault afraid to come forward, fearing a process that is stacked against them.

In contrast, New York State has the strongest laws in the nation to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's landmark 2015 "Enough is Enough" law is designed to encourage students to come forward with a report. It provides support for those who endure sexual misconduct, and it safeguards and balances the rights of both the accusers and the accused. Our universities were linchpins of support for this statewide legislation, and we are proud to partner with New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on changes at the federal level.

Both SUNY and CUNY submitted formal comments opposing the proposed revisions. Let there be no doubt that we will continue to face this problem head-on, redoubling our efforts to prevent sexual harassment, mitigate its harms, and protect our campus communities. We fervently oppose measures that make it harder for students to come forward, receive justice and, above all, partake of the invaluable educational opportunities CUNY and SUNY provide.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit suny.edu.

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Holly Liapis
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