Tufts’ relationship with Title IX has been a complex one. In 2014 the university was found to be in violation of Title IX in its handling of sexual assault and misconduct cases. After this finding, the university revisited its sexual assault policy and took steps to reform it, including the creation of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force. But, although recent updates to Title IX are moving it into the national spotlight once again, Tufts’ Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) has made the correct decision in not changing its policies in light of Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ updates.
Last month, DeVos announced that she will roll back aspects of Obama-era guidance on the handling of sexual misconduct issues. This rollback will primarily raise the burden of proof for these cases; previously the burden of proof was a preponderance of the evidence, the lowest standard of proof in the United States. Now, DeVos is allowing colleges to raise the burden of proof, claiming that the previous rules “lacked basic elements of fairness.” Despite this, the OEO has stated that the adjudication process will still be based on a preponderance of the evidence. Although this is the right decision, Tufts has skirted its responsibility in the past.
In 2014, Tufts’ noncompliance with Title IX raised serious concerns about the adjudications of sexual misconduct cases. When found in violation of federal regulations, Tufts initially drafted an agreement to implement change. But, shortly after, the administration rescinded its signature. Admission of guilt in these circumstances is important as it both respects those whom the university has failed and acknowledges the university’s failure.
Although Tufts had serious missteps in complying with the Obama-era regulations of Title IX, the school has since made progress in creating a safer community by revamping sexual misconduct regulations. The adoption of an anonymous, university-wide survey has increased the university’s accountability and monitors students’ sentiments about this issue. This survey is one of many other changes in university policy such as mandated OEO trainings for first-years, hiring experienced staff in the Center for Awareness, Resources, and Education (CARE) and creating new specialist positions. Undoubtedly, these mandated steps are positive, but it is unfortunate that Tufts first required a stinging rebuke from the federal government.
Devos’ changes have been favored by students accused of misconduct (mostly men), who believe that the process favors accusers. In an interview with the Daily Jill Zellmer, director of the OEO, stated that the OEO will maintain their current policies and continue to use the preponderance of the evidence standard in their adjudication process.
Although Tufts has a complicated relationship with Title IX, we are glad to see that even under a different political climate it is maintaining its position and hope it continues to take steps to create a more equitable adjudication process.