WASHINGTON – A pair of Democratic senators asked the Department of Education to reverse course on a recent decision they believe weakens Title IX enforcement and investigation of sexual assault on college campuses.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in a June 30 letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asked for a reversal on the Office of Civil Rights’ recent decision to broaden discretion for regional administrators when deciding what information is relevant to sexual assault investigations. The letter raised concerns about the OCR not fully considering the possibility of systemic sexual assault when weighing investigations.
Gillibrand and McCaskill contend that if the OCR reviews these cases in isolation, many events will go unquestioned, creating a culture that dissuades victims from filing charges.
“OCR’s decision to only address the specific complaint fails to protect all students as required by Title IX,” the letter reads, referring to an element found in the U.S. Educations Amendments Act of 1972, which is meant to address gender discrimination in public education.
The lawmakers claimed that the Department of Education approved the decision to help deal with a heavy backlog of sexual assault and Title IX related cases. They also criticized cuts included in the administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request, noting that the Department of Education anticipates slashing 40 employees from its investigation staff.
“While we acknowledge that the current backlog needs to be addressed, limiting investigations is not the correct approach,” the letter reads.
Gillibrand and McCaskill in April introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a piece of legislation intended to improve sexual assault investigations on college campuses by “strengthening” accountability and transparency. The lawmakers describe it as a reform package for how colleges approach and report sexual assault. The bill has gained 20 co-sponsors – five Republicans among them, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Dean Heller (Nev.).
Arvin Vohra, the founder of a private tutoring organization that works with college and high school students and the vice chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, said in an interview Monday that the legislation will do little to address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.
“The whole approach of Title IX is just completely backwards,” the founder of the Vohra Method said. “It’s all part of a wrong way of approaching the situation. It’s an example of government subsidizing and regulating something that needs to be neither subsidized, nor regulated. This is an example of preventing the free market from doing something that it does well.”
Vohra, who worked as a resident counselor in college at Brown University, said he would be the first to admit that rape is a “huge problem” on college campuses. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 11.2 percent of the student population experiences rape or sexual assault, including 23.1 percent of female undergraduates and 5.4 percent of male undergraduates.
“Sexual assault is a problem, but this is not how to solve it. This isn’t going to solve anything,” Vohra said.
He contended that public subsidization and regulation block the free market from offering radical solutions to significant problems. Various forms of online education and professional certification, he said, are less costly and safer alternatives to college, which promotes alcohol abuse and bad behavior. He said programs like the Thiel Fellowship offer a “totally different mindset.” The fellowship awards $100,000 scholarships over the course of two years to students younger than 23, allowing the individuals to pursue entrepreneurial efforts potentially involving research, incubator endeavors and social activism.
“The idea that education should look in any way like the current thing we have is just wrong,” Vohra said, describing college campuses as a bastion for “big-government thought” that is riddled with crime and cultural problems.