UC undeterred despite harmful federal sexual harassment rules

University of California President Janet Napolitano issued the following statement today (May 6) regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) announcement of final Title IX rules, which will impact the handling of cases of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, by universities and colleges across the country:

Responding appropriately to possible sexual harassment of any student on our campuses is of paramount importance. Regrettably, the Trump administration’s misguided sexual harassment rules could move higher education institutions further from that goal. At a time when our nation is still grappling with the far-reaching impacts of sexual harassment and violence, the Department of Education’s action seeks to reverse hard-fought social and policy gains. Imposing these new rules in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when students and staff are already anxious, and providing a tight timeline for compliance when schools have limited ability to meet with community members to discuss these changes, adds to the challenges.

While some changes, like the inclusion of relationship violence — an issue of growing concern during this period of sheltering at home — were welcome, it is deeply troubling that the ED largely disregarded input from thousands of students, educators, Title IX professionals and institutions across the nation including UC who cautioned against key aspects of the rules. Subjecting those reporting sexual harassment to direct cross-examination — in spite of more compassionate options — could deter already reluctant and sometimes traumatized complainants from coming forward. Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment and lowering the standards to which the federal government holds schools appears to weaken fair and just policies that have taken decades to establish. We can do better than this.

UC opposes these ill-conceived changes and, in spite of them, will continue our hard-won momentum through education, prevention, and processes that are fair and compassionate to all parties. We remain steadfast in our commitment to our students and community, and will respond to the rules with care and thoughtfulness. We have come too far as a nation to halt our progress against sexual harassment.