Title IX defense attorneys and student advisors around the country are all trying to predict how President Trump’s newly appointed administration at the Department of Education (“DOE”), Office for Civil Rights (“ORC”) will affect the rights afforded to students involved in sexual misconduct cases on college campuses. After Betsy DeVos became the eleventh Secretary of Education, many student advocates believed that the DOE would retract prior guidelines that required colleges to be tougher on students accused of sexual violence and harassment. So far, OCR has only rescinded the Dear Colleague Letter that protected transgender students’ right to bathroom choice of gender identity. In contrast, the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter addressing how sexual misconduct hearings should be adjudicated on campus has remained intact.
This week, President Trump tagged Candace E. Jackson, who has been coined a “libertarian feminist,” as the next acting assistant secretary for OCR. Ms. Jackson authored a book titled, Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, and assisted President Trump during his candidacy. Ms. Jackson would be temporary until the position is filled permanently.
Next in line, President Trump also tapped Carlos Muniz as the DOE’s legal counsel. Interestingly, Mr. Muniz, Senior Vice President for McGuire Woods, represented Florida State University on Title IX compliance matters. Despite some thought that the DOE will be left alone by President Trump and lost as a priority during his presidency, others believe that the above appointees will shrink the size of OCR and dilute the impact of prior OCR letters.
At the end of the day, those involved in serving as student advisors and Title IX defense attorneys are trying to do the impossible task of reading tea leaves to predict the future. What is certain, even if radical change occurs, it will take a long time for those changes to trickle down to any policy revisions at the university level. Moreover, even if OCR changes its policies, it will also have to reconcile those policies with the ever-evolving Title IX case law addressing student rights. These court rulings are filling in the void left unresolved by OCR. As dedicated student defense attorneys, we will continue to provide our readers with updates regarding OCR developments.