Thursday, August 25, 2022
A Study of the Comments to the Devos Title IX Rulemaking of 2018-20 Shows Overwhelming Opposition
Thomas Dircks, Lindsey LaForest, Timothy O'Shea, Alice Parks, Brittany Van Ryder, Nancy Chi Cantalupo, Overwhelming Opposition: the American Public’s Views on the Devos Title IX Rulemaking of 2018-2020
On November 29, 2018, then Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education (“ED”) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) regarding Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§1681 et seq. (“Title IX”), particularly ED enforcement regarding sexual harassment and gender-based violence (“SH-GBV”). This report discusses data collected by a crowd-research project in which hundreds of volunteers read and collected information from 117,358 of the 124,000+ comments filed in response to the NPRM into a “Big Comment Catalog” (“Catalog”). First, the report reviews the number and percentage of comments that supported or opposed the NPRM’s proposals, including by identified subgroup and topic. It then analyzes the themes of the comments filed, first the common concerns of the less than one percent of commenters who supported the NPRM and next of the more than 99 percent who opposed it. The Catalog is available in Appendix B of the report.
Of the 117,358 cataloged, organized, and examined by the research team (see the Methodology section for an explanation of why the Catalog does not include all 124,000+ comments that ED says were filed in the proceeding), 115,670 comments took a definitive position on the proposals. Of those comments that took a definitive position, more than 99 percent (n: 114,817) opposed the proposed rules while less than one percent (n: 853) supported them.
The predominant theme in the 853 supporters’ comments was the belief that ED’s Title IX enforcement methods for SH-GBV should imitate the criminal law. These comments favored the NPRM for correcting what supporters alleged were biased procedures that had been tolerated by ED in the past and approved of the NPRM’s requirements for live hearings with cross-examination, a heightened evidentiary standard, and protection of the accused’s—but not the victim’s—"due process” rights.
In part due to how many more commenters opposed the NPRM than supported it, the list of objections was also significantly longer. First, opposers objected to the NPRM’s narrowed scope of Title IX protections, including those limiting the types of SH-GBV that would qualify as violating Title IX, reducing the number and type of employees obligated under Title IX to assist a victim-survivor, and decreasing the obligations on funding recipients to address reports in an efficient manner. Of particular concern to opposers were the NPRM’s narrowed definitions for various terms, as well as the elimination of Title IX protections with regard to online harassment and off-campus SH-GBV. Second, those who opposed the NPRM addressed the potential harm to survivors, educational institutions, and students’ rights caused by the NPRM’s criminal law-imitative requirements for internal investigations, disciplinary systems, and a higher standard of evidence. Third, opposers objected to the NPRM’s adoption of broad religious exemptions from Title IX and for its disparate impacts on student populations already vulnerable to discrimination, including K-12 students and students who face intersectional discrimination.
This report’s authors thank the many volunteers who participated in this project over the last three years (see the Methodology section and Appendix A for a list of volunteers). Without their efforts, the Catalog and this report would not have been possible.