FIRE Sends Followup Harassment Inquiry to OCR, NAS Co-signs

Glenn Ricketts

It's been a little more than a year since the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent its controversial "Dear Colleague" letter to most American higher educational institutions.  That document, you'll recall, announced sweeping new guidelines and policies under which all college and universities receiveing federal funds would be obliged to process allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault.  Among the many very troubling features of these guidelines was the extremely short shrift given the due process rights of the accused: it's now a whole lot easier to reach a gulity verdict, and that's in light of how bad the previous situation had already been.  

If by chance you haven't yet perused the new guidelines, please do so, since they may already be operational on your campus.  You'll be interested to see 1) how broad a range of activity qualifies as "sexual harassment," and 2) how easy it could be to slam you with a guilty verdict that carries life-changing consequences. Remember, all of this is pre-packaged with the full weight of OCR's enforcement powers, especially its option to deny federal funds to "non-compliant" schools.  That stark reality has already prompted a number of them to jump eagerly through the hoop.

We set out our concerns at length here last September, and joined with FIRE, AAUP and other academic organizations in requesting that OCR address our mutual objections to the new policies.  As we noted last month, OCR's response to date has been complete silence: nothing, nada, zero, not a word.

But we're not going away, and we are happy to serve as co-signers to the followup letter our friends at FIRE sent to OCR earlier this week, reiterating our long list of concerns and asking once again that the agency address them.  By all means write to OCR if you like, but better yet write first to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which has oversight jurisdiction over the agency.  That they might just notice.

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