A nationwide public comment period began Sept. 7 to influence Title IX discrimination policies in higher education; Cal Poly policy will remain unchanged for the time being.
The new set of policies was released last month, but have to be signed into law before they are enforced, and the Department of Education say they want to hear from the public while the laws are being debated.
The new policies could give universities the choice to decide between a standard of preponderance, and clear and convincing proof of guilt when deciding guilt, as opposed to the current standard of preponderance. Preponderance means the school must only be more than half certain before assigning guilt, as opposed to needing to provide indisputable proof.
The policy would also remove the existing 100-day time frame for completion of an investigation. Current policy allows both parties to appeal, but the new guidelines offer a choice to only allow the defendant to appeal.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the changes Sept. 7. She said the move was intended to give schools more choice in deciding how to pursue Title IX investigations, calling the current investigations “kangaroo courts.”
According to Safer Coordinator Kara Samaniego, it is unclear how these changes will affect Cal Poly until federal laws are passed. The California State University (CSU) system has its own guidelines and California has a more protected status than other states, but if federal law explicitly prohibits a protection in the future, the system will have to obey it.
In the CSU system, Title IX investigations start with a possible survivor talking to the Office of Equal Opportunity and outlining their complaints. Then there is a 60-day period for an investigation — which can be extended by 30 days — but investigations have previously gone beyond 100 days, as in the case of Melissa Giddens. If the person named by the victim as the abuser is found guilty, the university can suspend, place on probation or expel the student. If the abuser is an employee, they can be demoted, suspended or fired.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White released a letter saying that although the CSU system updates its policies over time, the system will not change its approach to Title IX implementation.
“As we wait for [the Office of Civil Rights’] process to unfold, I assure you CSU’s existing policies will continue to protect our students and employees, and provide a fair process to all,” White wrote in the letter.
At a Sept. 27 meeting, Cal Poly Dean of Students Kathleen MacMahon said if students want to make an impact, the time to talk is now because once the public comment period closes in nine to 18 months and once laws are passed, they will be difficult to change.
Samaniego also urged students to engage in public comment by contacting Safer, the Office of Equal Opportunity, Dean of Students or the Chancellor’s Office.
“To not be involved in a public comment of policies that can so directly affect your life would be such a huge missed opportunity,” Samaniego said. “I think we need all voices in the matter.”
According to Cal Poly’s Annual Title IX Report, 76 people filed complaints for sexual misconduct, dating and domestic violence, or stalking in 2016. Of those reports, 23 were investigated, 52 were resolved without investigation and 12 people were held responsible.