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Dispute over rights of accused students is holding up massive higher ed bill: report

Ranking Democrat won’t support anything with ‘potential to re-traumatize survivors’

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act could have an easier time sailing through the Senate if not for a major stumbling block: the rights of students accused of sexual misconduct.

Inside Higher Ed reports that Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are deeply polarized on Title IX issues, citing “several individuals with knowledge of discussions.”

Lawmakers are working parallel to Department of Education efforts to rewrite Title IX regulations, expected to be finalized this fall, and continuing court rulings on due-process lawsuits by accused students.

Both federal regulators and appeals courts at the state and federal level have coalesced around the view that due process requires live hearings and some form of cross-examination between the parties in sexual misconduct proceedings, as opposed to the “single investigator” proceedings that many colleges use.

Live hearings and cross-examination are the sticking point for Senate committee members, however:

A Democratic committee aide acknowledged that campus sexual misconduct is one of the biggest challenges to reaching a deal on HEA reauthorization. The aide said the focus of Washington senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, was finding creating a fair process that wouldn’t re-traumatize survivors.

“Any proposal, any solution that has the potential to re-traumatize survivors is not something she’s going to support,” the aide said.

MORE: Lawyers largely support the feds’ Title IX proposal at Senate hearing

One advocate of due process warned Congress that it can’t just ignore court rulings on the subject. “Courts have been recognizing the importance of more procedural protections than has been the norm on college campuses,” Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told Inside Higher Ed.

Chair Lamar Alexander (above) and ranking member Murray created a working group earlier this year to negotiate provisions on sexual misconduct proceedings, Bloomberg Government reported in late June.

At that time, the group had met several times and its aides had met further to discuss “the language dealing with sexual assault,” the publisher reported. One of the group members, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, said the “sticking point” was Title IX but the members wanted to resolve it “so that this remains bipartisan.”

Democrat Tim Kaine, another group member, said it was the last “controversial” issue in the legislation, since Alexander and Murray have already reached agreement on the others.

Read the reports.

MORECourt rulings force Cal State to slam brakes on Title IX proceedings

IMAGE: Senate HELP Committee screenshot

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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