As a vote draws near on U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed Title IX changes, universities across the country, including Otterbein, are reflecting on how the proposed changes will affect cases of sexual misconduct reporting and processing.  

According to a press release from the Department of Education, the proposed rule seeks to ensure that all schools clearly understand their legal obligations under Title IX and that all students know their options and rights. 

In preparation for the ruling, Otterbein is considering its Title IX practices and how the institution will ensure student rights are protected in the future. 

“We pledge to take immediate action to the extent that we can to stop a behavior, provide the kind of support that is needed and then start working on a solution to resolve the concern,” said Julie Saker, associate dean of students. 

          

The policy narrows the definition of sexual harassment. According to Otterbein University’s student handbook, “Sexual misconduct is a form of sex- and gender-based discrimination." Sexual misconduct includes non-consensual sexual intercourse, non-consensual sexual contact, sex- and gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, indecent exposure, sexual violence and discrimination based on pregnancy.  

Additionally, the university would be prohibited from moving forward with an investigation unless a formal complaint is filed by the student. The university would also be prohibited from investigating if an incident occurs off-campus.

If an investigation occurs, the university would conduct hearings where parties have the right to a cross-examination. This is a major adjustment to the current written report policy where all official business is handled on paper alone. The transition to hearings would require training of a hearing officer and potential hiring of attorneys to represent the parties involved. 

          

“It’s a tremendous change,” said Scott Fitzgerald, director of human resources and Title IX coordinator. “We feel that we have a very good process right now for a very difficult situation. We handle both cases coming forward, respecting the rights of both parties, and we hope the process does not change.” 

The proposed changes have yet to be voted on. The university is monitoring the issue closely and will adapt its policies accordingly.