Saturday, May 18, 2013
As part of resolving Title IX complaints against the University of Montana for its handling of sexual assault reports involving its student-athletes, the federal government announced new definitions of sexual harassment designed "to provide clearer notice [to students] of the conduct prohibited" on college campuses. The Departments of Education and Justice co-authored a letter of findings to Montana, stating the administration's intention to make the policies in the letter "the blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country." On Friday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), criticized those new policies in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, pointing out that the administration's new sexual harassment definition includes "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" including "verbal conduct." This definition, FIRE argued, "makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser."
The administration's standards might affect more than First Amendment rights. Other language in the letter allows the university to punish students for sexual harassment before the school's investigation or resolution of the complaint. This new policy, FIRE noted, is far broader than the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court for student-on-student sexual harassment in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. Below is the announcement about the University of Montana agreement by deputy assistant attorney general Roy Austin Jr., DOJ Civil Rights Division.