What is Title IX, and how has it evolved in American schools over the years?
▪ On April 4, 2011, the Department of Education released a Dear Colleague letter that clarified universities’ obligation to investigate reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence involving students on- and off-campus under Title IX, a federal law that prevents gender-based discrimination. Schools must designate “responsible employees” who are required to report to the school’s Title IX coordinator, or other appropriate school designee, “all relevant details about the alleged sexual violence that the student or another person has shared.” The school is required to investigate and resolve the situation. Idaho “has designated all employees to be responsible employees,” except those with confidentiality as part of their jobs, said Erin Agidius, director of Idaho’s Office of Civil Rights and Investigations. Telling a supervisor isn’t enough. “What I typically have advised individuals is to inform their supervisor that they received information but they need to bring that forward themselves to ensure it is communicated and reported,” Agidius said.
▪ In March 2012, Idaho updated its Student Code of Conduct to comply with the Dear Colleague letter’s guidance. The jurisdiction for U of I disciplinary regulations was expanded to include off-campus conduct “when such off-campus conduct constitutes sexual harassment or gender-based harassment that may have continuing adverse effects in the educational setting.” Harassment includes sexual violence.
▪ In April 2013, the University of Idaho was notified by the Department of Education that it was being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights for its handling of a sexual harassment complaint unrelated to Mairin Jameson.
▪ On Feb. 1, 2014, Idaho’s Student Code of Conduct was updated to allow the university to investigate all types of off-campus conduct on a case-by-case basis.
▪ In August 2016, the university established the Office of Civil Rights and Investigations. The staff includes two full-time investigators, who replaced staff members in other departments who were performing investigations on the side. The OCRI provides education on Title IX issues and handles “any reports of discrimination or harassment of any protected class,” Agidius said. The OCRI investigates those reports and forwards information to the dean of students office for adjudication when appropriate. It also can handle cases informally within a particular department, but OCRI must be contacted and involved, Agidius said. OCRI replaced the dean of students office as the landing spot for reports of sexual violence and other Title IX-related issues.
▪ On Sept. 22, 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the 2011 Dear Colleague letter and a related 2014 Q&A. That hasn’t prompted any changes at Idaho. “How I’ve viewed the rescission of that Dear Colleague Letter is the 2011 letter raised the score, the guidance from 2017 kind of lowered it, so there’s nothing that prevents us from maintaining the higher level we’re at currently,” Agidius said. “We did not alter what we do.” The 2017 guidance required that the standard of proof for Title IX-related violations be the same as other conduct violations. That already was the case at Idaho, which uses a preponderance of the evidence or “more likely than not.”
▪ Cases that go through the campus judicial system are handled differently now than in 2013. The investigations are conducted professionally by the OCRI, and hearing outcomes are determined by a Student Conduct Board of about five students, staff and faculty members. In 2013, hearing outcomes were determined by a panel of 8-10 called the University Judicial Council. The investigators present their findings to the Student Conduct Board, and those findings already have been reviewed by the complainant and respondent. The board can ask questions as needed.