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Former Title IX Official Outlines Changes To How Colleges Handle Sexual Assault Cases


The Trump administration has announced big changes to how colleges handle cases of sexual assault and harassment. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said, up to now, the rights of an accuser have far outweighed those of the accused. The proposed changes will modify rules drafted during the Obama administration. Here to tell us how they differ is Patty Crawford. She's a former Title IX administrator. She worked with both Baylor and Indiana University. Welcome to the program.

PATTY CRAWFORD: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So let's begin with some of the biggest changes proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And I know the first is just the very definition of sexual harassment, right? Under the Obama rules, it was just essentially unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. What's changed?

CRAWFORD: Yes, the definition in these new regulations speaks more specifically to the federal definition of sexual harassment - meaning it's pervasive or repeated, more severe. Some of the other change is also related to the preponderance of evidence standard, meaning the burden of proof. So it gives universities, colleges and K-12 the opportunity to heighten the burden of proof to clear and convincing standard, which is different. The process as well for a hearing is highlighted in a new level - meaning there's opportunities for cross-examination, advisers for the parties, and there are live hearings - meaning that it can be more of an intense process.

CORNISH: More of a courtroom-like atmosphere.

CRAWFORD: Right. It feels more like a trial than a trauma-informed hearing process that we were accustomed to under the 2011 and 2014 guidance.

CORNISH: To that point, there is a emphasis on making sure those who are accused of harassment or assault have their due process, so to speak. And there's been a lot of criticism of this. Can you talk about why, as someone who's been in the position of being a Title IX administrator?

CRAWFORD: You know, the best practices in Title IX have been for years to give equitable and impartial processes to both parties. And that has been something that at Baylor we took seriously under our policy while I was there - and really gave due process rights to both parties. There were rare circumstances where an accused person might get an interim suspension or expulsion if we had a lot of evidence that they were unsafe on campus. And we went through a whole process on that - of creating an unsafe environment on campus. And that took a lot of evidence to move forward.

That right has been taken away under this new guidance. To a certain extent, there's still an opportunity to do that, but it's going to be more difficult. So the essence of this due process for the accused as being the main focus of this guidance, you know, really shifts what Title IX means, what Title IX professionals do and really what the essence of this is about.

CORNISH: Title IX - right? - this 1972 law was supposed to bar sex discrimination in education programs that get federal funding. Is it built to deal with essentially adjudication of sex crimes? And is that part of the problem here?

CRAWFORD: That is exactly one of the problems. That's not what universities and colleges and even K-12 programs are designed to do. We're not designed to be quasi-justice systems. And, you know, I would strongly encourage the Department of Education to work with the Department of Justice. You know, at Baylor, I had over 400 reports to me in 23 months. And we had 25 hearings in one semester. And, you know, you're just not equipped for that kind of load.

And most of those cases, there were no police reports attached to those. Students were coming to us to create a resolution for them. But they weren't going to the police and didn't want to go through a trial or a criminal case because of the stigma of that and because of how long it takes. And they need a quicker resolution when they're going to school with the accused person. And they need that access to go to class or to feel comfortable at a campus event or a university event.

CORNISH: Patty Crawford is a former Title IX administrator. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CRAWFORD: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.