Higher Education News

Experts question validity of survey on students and the First Amendment

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 07:00

Survey results released by the Brookings Institution last week attracted considerable attention with their suggestions that many college students don't understand the First Amendment and that a significant minority of students (19 percent of all students and 30 percent of male students) said it would be acceptable for a student group to use violence to prevent a controversial speaker from speaking.

The findings, particularly on tolerance for violence, were widely discussed, including in a brief article in Inside Higher Ed. A column in The Washington Post called the survey results "chilling." On social media, many people expressed sadness, with one tweet suggesting that "James Madison weeps." Conservative websites ran articles with headlines like “Illiberal Liberals on Campus -- It’s Worse Than You Thought” and “Antifa and Its Left-Wing Allies Are Winning the Battle for Free Speech on College Campuses.”

But are the findings valid?

The Guardian on Saturday drew attention to a fact that was not noted in the Brookings write-up of the survey. The study was an "opt-in" survey and was not in fact a representative sample of college students. The study itself, available here, says that the survey was online and doesn't say that it was opt-in. And language in the survey write-up suggests that it was based on a representative sample. The Brookings article says, "To the extent that the demographics of the survey respondents (after weighting for gender) are probabilistically representative of the broader U.S. college undergraduate population, it is possible to estimate the margin of error in the tables above. For a confidence level of 95 percent, the margin of error is between approximately 2 percent and 6 percent -- the margin of error is smaller for the categories with larger numbers of respondents." Those not paying close attention to the "to the extent …" part of the sentence might think that a real margin of error was claimed.

In the Guardian article, experts on polling were quoted about the combination of not revealing that the survey was opt-in with the language on margin of error. Their conclusions were quite negative, with phrases such as "junk science" and "really not appropriate" and charging the author with "trying to overstate the quality of his survey."

Then there is the question of timing. The Brookings write-up does clearly note that the study was conducted between Aug. 17 and Aug. 31. But no mention is made that this means the survey opened just a few days after white nationalists rallied at the University of Virginia, with many shouting a Nazi chant; a counterprotester was killed -- apparently by one of the white nationalists who drove his car into a group -- the next day. The events in Charlottesville, Va., stunned and angered students (and others) nationwide.

The scholar who produced the survey and the Brookings article is John Villasenor, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and a professor of electrical engineering, public policy, and management, and a visiting professor of law, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, he acknowledged that the survey was opt-in and that there could be no assurance that the sample was representative. He said that the makeup of survey participants in various ways (party identification, gender, attendance at various kinds of colleges) pointed to what he said was the likely reliability of his data. But he said that nothing in his article was untrue, even if he didn't include that the survey was opt-in. "I was very careful with language," he said.

He also acknowledged that many experts in the field and journalists tend to pay little attention to opt-in surveys.

Asked if he regretted not including that detail, he said he always engages in "Monday morning quarterbacking" after he publishes articles, but said he wasn't willing to say he had made a mistake.

Villasenor said he plans to submit a more scholarly version of his article to a law review, and that he did plan to note the opt-in nature of the results in that piece.

The Brookings study is not the first to find that many college students today favor limits on free speech, especially when it comes to what students view as "hate speech" that demeans groups of people. Gallup and the Knight Foundation released such a study last year, although that study did not have questions about student tolerance of violence as a response to controversial speakers. The Gallup/Knight project includes a methodology that explains how students were interviewed and why those in that study make up a representative sample.

As to whether Charlottesville might also raise questions about the findings, Villasenor said that could be possible. But he said that it would be "speculative" to conclude that Charlottesville influenced the results, so he opted not to note the timing issue.

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Ball State debates how to frame diversity question on teaching evaluations

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 07:00

Ball State University promotes diversity and does not tolerate discrimination. Everyone says they can agree on that.

But the best way to gauge how professors live up to that standard isn’t quite settled, as the Ball State Faculty Council discovered in its most recent meeting.

Last year, Charlene Alexander, who was then the university’s associate provost for diversity and director of the Office of Institutional Diversity, introduced an open-ended question for the Faculty Council to potentially use on the teaching evaluations that are offered to students at the end of a course. Alexander has since moved on to Oregon State University, but the council took up the question in this month's meeting.

“The university does not tolerate discrimination and is committed to work with diversity in a wholly positive way,” the text reads. “Please indicate below anything in relation to this course that supports or runs counter to this objective.”

The council was hesitant to adopt the proposal, however, and instead sent it back to a committee to come up with alternatives, while at the same time announcing it would take solicitations from departments on different language for the text as well.

"People did not like the wording of it. It just didn't fit the tone, or how it sounded with the rest of the questions [in the evaluation]," said Melinda Messineo, interim associate provost for diversity and interim director of the Office of Institutional Diversity.

Additionally, Messineo said, the question was, in a sense, outdated. It was developed at the same time the university was developing a bias-incident reporting system. That system is now live, so there's a way to collect data that the evaluation question would have collected -- perhaps more, given the array of questions that the person reporting the incident can address, and the fact that offenders aren't just limited to professors. At the same time, Messineo said, one of the concerns raised was that, even with the question included, the university wouldn't necessarily be able to act on any of the answers.

"This question will want to accomplish something different now that we have the bias-incident [reporting mechanism]," said Messineo, who attended the Faculty Council meeting. "What we're hoping to do with the evaluation question is talk about an inclusive teaching environment, which is a different angle."

Da'Prielle Fuller, president of the Black Students Association at Ball State, said that she wouldn't lobby for the question as it currently stands -- but still wants a question on teaching evaluations.

"The question asks about the university, not the professor. If we are going to have the question on a teaching evaluation, it should directly ask about that professor," she said in an email, noting that her opinion doesn't necessarily reflect that of the BSA.

Fuller said that while the bias incident reporting system is available, not all students might know about it. Reaching students through the evaluation would be more direct.

"It is hard to learn in a space where you do not feel comfortable. If my learning is affected by something [a professor] said or did in the classroom, it needs to be addressed and handled so it doesn't happen to another student," said Fuller, a senior studying criminal justice.

A lot can be at stake when it comes to teaching evaluations, although, at the same time, what’s at stake isn’t necessarily consistent, said Faculty Council Chairman Tarek Mahfouz, an associate professor of construction management. Depending on the department, teaching evaluations could affect tenure, raises and promotions to a varying degree. That’s part of the reason professors hesitated to adopt the text as it was delivered.

“The language itself, some faculty had some concerns about it,” he said. “It’s kind of pushing the question in a negative way. These were concerns were brought up.”

Additionally, the varying responses that anonymous teaching evaluations get are a concern for some council members, Mahfouz said. Depending on the rate of participation among students filling out the evaluations, a given response’s weight might vary.

“The main concern was the means of collection,” he said. “We were all in agreement that this is an essential issue, and data need to be collected. But the question was, is it written in the right way or not?”

The Teaching Evaluation Committee is now looking at both the language of the question and the way responses are allowed. Currently, the response is open-ended. Mahfouz said one of the considerations was making the response a ranked choice along how well the professor did or didn't uphold the university's antidiscrimination values.

Despite the pushback, Mahfouz said that the faculty was committed to measuring diversity and inclusion through teaching evaluations.

“That’s why it was sent back to the Teaching Evaluation Committee,” he said. “It wasn’t rejected in its entirety. If it was rejected completely, that would mean the faculty believed it should not be included … but it was returned for adjustment.”

What an ideal form of the question will look like is still up in the air, Mahfouz said, although it could come as soon as October, during the council’s next meeting.

“The consensus of the faculty is that this needs to be included, it’s just this disagreement is on the language or the form of it being included,” he said. “We’re trying to find the best way to include it in the evaluations, or the best way of including the data.”

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Howard University students shout throughout James Comey speech

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 07:00

WASHINGTON -- James Comey (at right) was met with protests when he spoke at Howard University’s convocation Friday, a sign, perhaps, of the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director’s long road ahead at the historically black university.

Comey, who was appointed to the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard last month, was met with protests and chants of “No justice, no peace” and “I love being black,” as well as “We shall not be moved,” when he took the stage. After waiting about 15 minutes, he decided to speak over the chants -- which did not subside throughout his speech -- from a group of students attending the ceremony.

Interviews with students on campus the next day painted a picture of a student population where many are skeptical of or neutral about Comey at best. Amid a larger debate over campus speakers, many students at historically black colleges have objected to inviting speakers they view as not having been supportive of black people or black institutions. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced protesting students throughout a commencement address in May at Bethune Cookman University, another historically black university.

In interviews on Howard's campus, students offered a range of views on what happened.

“I honestly give [Comey] props for that,” Alexis Barge, a marketing major who was seated near the protesters, said of Comey trying to wait for the protests to subside. “He was very calm; he wasn’t looking angry or anything like that.”

Though she took some issues with the way the protest was carried out, she said she agreed with the protesters’ cause. The 50 or so students who protested, who organized on social media under the name HUResist, gathered in opposition to Comey because of his tenure at the FBI.

“Convocation is an event designed to officially welcome freshmen and transfer students into the historically black university,” the group said in a statement posted to social media. “Comey, ironically, boasted many affronts to black communities and communities of color during his tenure with the FBI, including the dismissal of racist state-sanctioned violence, and efforts to dismantle the growing Black Lives Matter movement, similar to the FBI’s efforts to dismantling of [sic] the civil rights and Black Power movements just a few decades prior.”

One specific charge that the group brought up in its statement was the “Ferguson effect.” In 2015, following the protests in Ferguson, Mo., after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, Comey said that the scrutiny officers were receiving in the following months was hampering their ability to do their jobs effectively.

“Where we are stepping back a little bit is at the margins, where we might otherwise have gotten out of our cars and talked to a group,” Comey said police officers had told him. “We’re not doing that so much anymore because we don’t feel like being that guy in the video.”

Comey’s comments were controversial at the time and earned rebuke from the Obama White House.

“[The protesters] started off right, but then it got really rowdy. They were cursing, and there were children there. I’m not a fan of James Comey myself, for certain reasons,” Barge said. “I do believe they should have let him speak, a little bit.”

“If I would have known about the protest, I honestly would have been a part of it.”

Samara Archibald, who studies nursing, also said she has a skeptical outlook of Comey. And her criticism of the protest, as was Barge’s, was about the way it was organized rather than its message.

“There were rowdier people who started getting in the front, and they were a lot more angry. The way they were saying it wasn’t as well-spoken as the people who were starting at the beginning,” said Archibald, who watched the convocation ceremony via a video feed.

“It started getting a lot more disorganized,” she said, adding she would have preferred letting Comey speak. “I do stand with the protesters, I do stand with their message.”

Noelle Shaw, a criminology major who attended the convocation ceremony a few rows down from the protesters, said she hoped Comey would be open to learning during his time at Howard.

“I agree with the [protesters’] message,” she said. “But you can’t have change if you’re not willing to listen. He doesn’t know what you want to change, and you have to let him respond to the changes that you want.”

Additionally, for Barge, parts of Comey's speech came off as tone-deaf.

“Parts that I heard [above the noise of the protest], some parts I was hearing, saying, ‘This is our struggle,’ -- I didn’t completely agree with. White people have privilege,” she said. “When he says ‘our struggle together,’ it’s like … I guess he’s trying to be relatable.”

The protest came as universities and their choices for speakers and lecturers have come under scrutiny, raising questions about who is deserving of those spots. In addition to protests of DeVos, Harvard University recently rescinded an offer made to Chelsea Manning for a one-week fellowship after the university was blasted by the Central Intelligence Agency and others for inviting her. Manning was convicted for leaking classified information about the U.S. military, and while some consider her a hero for the action, others consider her a traitor. But at the same time, Harvard kept its offers to Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary under Donald Trump, and Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager who was once charged with simple battery over the way he handled a reporter at a rally.

For the protesters, Comey’s history seems to be a nonstarter for even beginning a conversation, much less taking a job at Howard (he has pledged to donate his $100,000 salary to a scholarship fund for students from foster homes). Neither Howard nor HUResist responded to requests for comment over the weekend. In Howard's efforts to allow the speech to continue, a minister unsuccessfully attempted to quiet the crowd, and Comey's microphone was turned up.

“I thought it was well organized,” Sage Chase, a musical theater major, said of the protest. She said she declined to join in because she didn’t feel like she had done enough research on the matter, but she said she had friends who protested.

“It was surprising to me” when it was announced that Comey was appointed to his position at Howard, Chase said. Even though she didn’t think much of it, she knew there was opposition to him on campus.

“I just accepted it, but I didn’t go to the convocation or anything,” she said. “I just don’t understand why he was appointed or why he is coming here.”

Latrell McClain, a psychology major, said he doesn’t consider himself very political, but he wasn’t surprised at Comey’s reception Friday, given the campus’s history of activism.

“The fact that there was a protest so early [on campus], I’m not surprised about it at all,” he said. “When it comes to Howard, stuff like that is done all the time.”

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Research universities partner to increase low-income student graduation

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 07:00

Three years ago a group of public research universities set out to prove that by working together they could significantly increase the completion rates of low-income students without reducing quality or diminishing their research productivity.

And last week they released new evidence that they are not only achieving their goals, but on track to surpass them.

The 11 universities make up the University Innovation Alliance, which released new data Thursday showing that they have increased the number of low-income graduates at their institutions by 24.7 percent in the past three years. The increase also puts the alliance on pace to surpass its total graduation goals.

"These 11 presidents and chancellors united around a sense of urgency and a shared problem, and they've held each other accountable with data-sharing agreements and transparency," said Bridget Burns, executive director of the UIA. "The alliance is about helping those campuses share what is working, adopt new interventions and scale up what's working faster."

Members of the UIA
Arizona State University
Georgia State University
Iowa State University
Michigan State University
Ohio State University
Oregon State University
Purdue University
University of California, Riverside
University of Central Florida
University of Kansas
University of Texas at Austin

When the alliance began three years ago, the goal was to graduate an additional 68,000 undergraduates by 2025 and have at least half of those students come from low-income families. The total number of undergraduate degrees awarded by the members has increased by 9.2 percent since 2014 -- from 79,170 to 86,436. The alliance is expected to exceed public attainment goals, with an additional 94,000 graduates by 2025.

The universities haven't given up their research missions, but the focus is now on social mobility, said Kim Wilcox, chancellor of UC Riverside.

"We focused on simple things," Wilcox said. "We focused on the number of credits students take."

Completion became the overall improvement goal, so the administration and faculty members encouraged students to take a minimum 15 credits per term, he said.

Riverside is also socioeconomically diverse, with about 60 percent of students on campus receiving Pell Grants.

"If you raise the overall graduation rate, you raise the rate of Pell students," Wilcox said.

Wilcox placed an emphasis on building not only a relationship with the other presidents and chancellors but asking that his senior aides do the same with their counterparts at the other campuses. The point was to share data, and even if Riverside didn't replicate the exact model Georgia State used, they would at least understand the common principles behind achieving success, he said.

Despite some criticism surrounding the completion agenda and encouraging students to graduate on time, Wilcox said, it's important for students to realize that staying in college longer is more expensive for them.

"We have to help them understand it's another year in the job market they're squandering," he said.

Burns said the university presidents understood that the degree-attainment challenge isn't just about increasing the number of graduates but increasing degree production across the socioeconomic spectrum.

At Ohio State, the university focused on data analytics and advising and examined the work UIA did with helping guide students to the right career path, said Michael Drake, the university's president. Ohio State, like many of the others in the alliance, also focused on emergency aid. Last month the group started a new initiative to provide completion grants to students facing financial pressures in their last semester of study.

"There are people who believe affordability, access and excellence are separate things," Drake said. "I believe they all modify each other positively -- if we're doing our best work as a public research university, we're maximizing affordability, access and excellence at the same time. We're a Research I and that's critically important to us, but that's not incompatible with social mobility."

But there are still challenges facing the institutions despite the improvement in graduation numbers. Drake said they're still encountering a diverse group of students who come to the university with an uneven level of preparation from high school.

In a comparative study, the 11 alliance members learned that 31 percent of their undergraduate students receive Pell Grants compared to 15 percent of undergraduates at Ivy League institutions and at 50 other selective liberal arts colleges.

"Despite all of the attention around elite institutions talking about social mobility and economics, the entire Ivy League doesn't serve 10,000 low-income students," Burns said. "Where we focus our attention matters, and these presidents are doing something that is bucking a trend. They're resisting pressure from other sources … it isn't incentivized or encouraged, and you won't see rankings for this effort."

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NCAA hands light punishment to Rutgers football program

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 07:00

Rutgers University escaped the most serious punishments by the National Collegiate Athletic Association after its football players failed drug tests and were still allowed to compete and the team’s former head coach tried to persuade a professor to raise an athlete’s grade.

The NCAA levied few consequences outside those the university already imposed. Rutgers will face probation from now until 2019, and both the former head football coach and an assistant coach have been slapped with a yearlong “show cause order,” limiting their job prospects in college athletics.

But neither is employed by the university anymore, and the head coach, Kyle Flood, now works for the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League. He was fired in 2015.

Rutgers already chose to pay a $5,000 fine and reduce off-campus recruitment days, as well as the number of times prospective athletes can visit the university this academic year.

The NCAA did not force the university to vacate any of its wins or cut back on scholarships, which would have more severely hurt the football program.

Flood, whom the university suspended for three games during the 2015 season after the allegations came to light, also contacted the professor of an athlete with a failing grade. He tried to arrange extra course work for the player to boost his grade and ensure he could play. Ultimately the professor, who was an adjunct, refused, and the athlete was deemed ineligible.

An administrator in the university’s Academic Support Office had already warned Flood against making the request, which Flood chose to ignore. Flood also contacted the professor multiple times using his personal email account -- at one point, he admitted it was to avoid the email coming to light via a public records request.

Flood asked the player to draft a letter to the professor "explaining his behavior last semester." The coach then forwarded it to the faculty member -- "I am sending it from my personal email to your personal email to ensure there will be no public vetting of the correspondence."

The professor said she felt Flood had "badgered" her.

Some of the other infractions stem from a group called the football student ambassadors, an unofficial collective that nonetheless handled many aspects of recruiting players, including hosting them on the campus. It is separate from the Scarlet Ambassadors, the recognized campus group.

Because the ambassadors were unaffiliated, their activities conflicted with the university’s procedures on recruitment and flouted NCAA rules.

“The former head coach took a casual approach to compliance as it relates to the host program,” the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions panel said in a statement. “He exercised little, if any, oversight of the group, permitting recruiting staff to administer the program with no supervision. As the individual who had ultimate oversight of all aspects of the football program, it is implicit that the head coach was also responsible for the actions of football hosts and, ultimately, the violations they committed.”

Rutgers also violated its drug-testing policies; athletic department employees, such as the athletics director, at times weren’t informed when an athlete tested positive for banned substances.

A total of 32 athletes tested positive for such substances from September 2011 through fall 2015, but many continued to play without being disciplined, according to the NCAA. A few times, even the athletes weren’t informed they had tested positive.

In 2014, an assistant football coach met with a sophomore in high school, a potential recruit, face-to-face, which violated the NCAA policy of not taking face-to-face meetings until a student’s junior year. The assistant coach then lied to investigators about speaking with the student, though others had confirmed the visit.

Rutgers President Robert Barchi issued a brief statement on the NCAA’s findings Friday.

“Today, the committee issued its final report concluding the matter, and not only recognized our cooperation but also acknowledged the extensive changes we have taken in personnel, structure, policies and compliance. The committee accepted our self-imposed penalties and extended our self-imposed probation period from one to two years,” the statement reads in part. “We want to express our gratitude to the committee and to the NCAA enforcement staff, and we are moving forward in a new era of Rutgers athletics.”

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Education Department releases interim directions for Title IX compliance

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 07:00

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued guidance Friday granting colleges new discretion in how they comply with requirements under federal Title IX law to resolve and adjudicate allegations of sexual misconduct on campus.

DeVos at the same time rescinded 2011 and 2014 guidelines issued by the Obama administration that survivor advocates say have been critical in pushing for new protections, including guarantees that victims of assault are not denied access to an education. The department's Office for Civil Rights will use the new guidance document to assess institutions' compliance with Title IX until a promised federal regulation dealing with campus sexual misconduct is finalized.

The new guidance from the department grants colleges the ability to set their own evidentiary standard for misconduct findings, to pursue informal resolutions such as mediation and to establish an appeals process for disciplinary sanctions. It also includes language dealing with protections for accused students.

"This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly," DeVos said in a written statement. "Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes."

The 2011 Obama administration guidance, frequently referred to as the Dear Colleague letter, became a focus of ongoing controversy over federal Title IX policy in recent years, even though it drew largely on already existing guidelines and federal law. Congressional Republicans as well as groups that advocated for more "due process" protections for accused students argued that the administration overreached and had issued new mandates through the guidance process without appropriate formal input.

Advocates for survivors of sexual assault called the document -- and the decision to rescind the Obama guidance -- a betrayal of protections long fought for on campuses. And they said language issued by the department tips the scales toward protecting the rights of accused students, rather than victims, noting that sexual misconduct only in recent years became recognized as a major issue to be addressed in higher education.

Some higher education organizations were receptive to the additional flexibility in resolving misconduct complaints, however. And longtime critics of the Dear Colleague letter praised the secretary's focus on fairness for accused students.

Colleges and universities are unlikely to undertake major changes to existing policies after the release of the new federal guidelines, at least immediately. A binding regulation should be finalized sometime in the next year to 18 months. But advocates said the document released Friday rolls back clear protections and removes clarification colleges themselves had asked for to better fulfill their responsibilities under Title IX.

"It sets up a system where schools can, with the consent of the department, stack the deck against us in a way that is just profoundly unfair," said Alyssa Peterson, a policy and advocacy coordinator with Know Your IX, a group that works to end sexual violence on campuses.

Among the notable changes from previous guidelines:

  • Colleges can apply either a preponderance of evidence standard or a clear and convincing evidence standard to reach findings about alleged misconduct. Previous guidance from the Obama administration stated clearly that institutions should use the preponderance standard, which sets a lower burden or proof for findings of misconduct.
  • The department says there is "no fixed time frame" under which a school must complete a Title IX investigation. The 2011 guidance stated that a "typical investigation" takes about 60 days after a complaint is made but said more complex cases could take longer.
  • Campuses may opt to set an appeals process policy that allows appeals by both parties or by accused students only.
  • Where colleges determine it is appropriate, the new guidelines say they may facilitate an "informal resolution" such as mediation.

Reactions to the New Guidance

The guidance released Friday said campus administrators have an obligation to respond when they know or should reasonably know of incidents of sexual misconduct, whether or not a student files a complaint. And it clarifies that existing voluntary resolution agreements reached between the Office for Civil Rights and institutions remain in effect.

"When the government sprang its 2011 letter on colleges and students without warning, it made it impossible for campuses to serve the needs of victims while also respecting the rights of the accused," Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that's been highly critical of Obama administration policies on Title IX, said in a written statement. "With the end of this destructive policy, we finally have the opportunity to get it right."

While the 2011 Dear Colleague letter didn't go through a formal comment process, it was preceded by discussions and meetings with students, parents and administrators, including multiple visits to campuses. (Survivor advocates have noted no such public engagement preceded the rescinding of the DCL or the release of the new guidance Friday.) It also drew heavily on 2001 guidance on Title IX that did go through a formal notice and comment period, advocates say.

DeVos initially offered no comment on the 2011 letter when discussing federal Title IX policy this summer, even as she said current federal policy should be improved. In a one-day Title IX summit in July that included a meeting with university presidents and campus lawyers, no higher education institutions called for the department to rescind the letter. But in a speech earlier this month, the secretary blasted Obama administration policies and said the guidance had created a "failed system" that encouraged violations of students' rights. Proponents of the Obama-era guidance noted that it made clear that both parties involved in campus proceedings should get equal treatment.

And they say language in the interim guidance issued by DeVos could make the process less equitable for victims of sexual misconduct. Survivor advocates, for example, point to the directions regarding appeals as allowing a system less fair to victims. They say a mention of cross examination doesn't clarify how it would be handled appropriately and would potentially open the possibility of campuses allowing victims to be questioned directly by their alleged assailants and worry that administrators could push victims into mediation when it's not in their best interest. And although colleges rarely completed investigations within the 60 day timeframe suggested in previous guidance, advocates say the Q&A includes no benchmark to push schools to act more quickly to resolve complaints of misconduct. 

"This is all a roll back," Peterson said. "There's nothing they did that affirmatively advanced our rights." 

Naomi Shatz, a lawyer with the firm Zalkind Duncan and Bernstein, who represents students in campus disciplinary proceedings, said the new instructions from the department do make meaningful clarifications spelling out that both parties are entitled to see and respond to investigative findings before a decision is reached on alleged misconduct. However, she said she didn't expect major changes to campus policies in response to the guidance document.

"They’re not going to turn on a dime and revamp everything based on nonbinding recommendations, especially when they know there are going to be binding regulations coming out," Shatz said.

Higher education groups made similar comments Friday, even as they said colleges would have serious work to do to determine the effects of the new guidance document. Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said the new guidelines provide some additional flexibility to schools that were not there before. But the department's decision to rescind Obama administration guidance wouldn't affect the commitment of colleges to address sexual assault, he said.

“There are some things where institutions will have to take a careful look at their own practices relative to what the new guidance requires,” he said. “The default setting on this for most institutions will continue to be to do what we have been doing.”

Campus administrators handling Title IX investigations said they do not anticipate altering their processes following the new directive.

"It won’t change our response to sexual misconduct; we’re not going to change our current policy in any way and we're going to await formal guidance from the department," said Howard Kallem, Duke University's director for Title IX compliance. "We're focused on making sure Duke continues to have a fair and balanced and transparent process, and we think we do."

Crystal C. Coombes, the senior deputy Title IX coordinator at the University of South Florida, said she was pleasantly surprised by the department's action.

This changes little for her institution, Coombes said, and seems to hark back instead to Title IX guidance issued in 2001. She said some colleges were not abiding by the rules the 2001 guidance established, and that the 2011 Dear Colleague letter served as a "stronger fist" for some of those older requirements. Most institutions operate far beyond the minimum standards required by the 2011 guidance, she said.

Coombes complimented the removal of the 60-day window for investigations, saying it was "very, very rare" that the entire process could be wrapped up in two months.

While the new information does allow colleges to choose between two standards of evidence, Coombes said the preponderance standard is preferred because "clear and convincing" comes too close to a judicial model that does not fit in a university setting.

Eric Butler, the Title IX coordinator at the University of Denver, agreed on the evidentiary standard, saying that preponderance should remain.

"This is not a criminal proceeding, even though people like to compare it to criminal proceedings," Butler said. "The government should have to hop through every possible hoop to send someone to jail. Part of this is controlling its community; a student has to agree to certain standards of conduct, and sexual misconduct is one of them."

The department's communications seemed to emphasize only the rights of the accused, said Butler, highlighting that universities can pick whether to extend appeal rights to both parties -- or just the accused.

Amy Foerster, general counsel at Bucknell University, said there is a perception among some that the steps taken by DeVos were necessitated by the fact that colleges and universities have been getting Title IX wrong.

"I simply don't think that's the case as a general rule," she said. "Colleges and universities have been working really hard over the last several years to ensure that they have processes that provide a level of fundamental fairness for all students involved in these really difficult cases."

Proponents of the Obama guidelines say many institutions have made progress in recent years, while others still have significant work to do. Alexandra Brodsky, a lawyer and fellow at the National Women's Law Center, said many colleges will read DeVos's actions as a signal to slow down their efforts to improve protections for students.

"I also worry about schools that have been and continue to be hostile, and have really chafed at the department's calls to respect students' rights," she said. "I think the overwhelming thing we have heard from schools is that they wanted guidance, they wanted help, they wanted clarity."

DeVos's decision will make the work of those colleges harder, Brodsky said.

Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the department during the Obama administration, said DeVos's action showed that the federal government is no longer looking out for students.

"The Trump administration's new guidance is dangerously silent on critical parts of Title IX. This backward step invites colleges to once again sweep sexual violence under the rug," she said in a written statement. "Students deserve better, the law demands better, our college and university community must continue to commit to better, and we as a country must demand more from the U.S. Department of Education."

-- Jeremy Bauer-Wolf contributed to this article.

Editorial Tags: Federal policyTitle IXImage Caption: Betsy DeVosIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
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