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Georgetown University lawyer details the burden placed on colleges by campus sexual assault policies


At a panel Thursday discussing campus sexual assault and due process, the general counsel for Georgetown University lamented the constantly changing rules being forced on colleges and universities by Congress and the Obama administration.

"Part of what is hard, honestly, as an institution, is the playing field changes with every OCR resolution," Lisa Brown, who is also the university's vice president, said at a panel put together by the American Constitution Society. "You implement the 'Dear Colleague' letter, then you have the [Violence Against Women Act] reauthorization, then you have [Office for Civil Rights'] and then you have the White House task force report and you have all these resolution agreements."

The onslaught of government regulations started in 2011 with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' "Dear Colleague" letter, which reinterpreted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to classify sexual misconduct as a form of discrimination.

In 2013, after a lengthy battle in Congress, President Obama signed a reauthorization of VAWA, which also added new rules for colleges and universities in regards to Title IX.

Then in April 2014, OCR issued a question-and-answer document regarding Title IX that further clarified the requirements schools must follow in adjudicating sexual assault. At the same time, the White House Task Force created a year earlier by Obama issued its first report with additional requirements.

"We are trying so hard to get it right for students and you have constantly these things coming in," Brown said.

It's understandable that colleges and universities would have trouble providing a fair process when these documents present a bias against the accused student and require additional resources be spent on training administrators and providing services for accusers.

It also is a reminder that the system set up to adjudicate sexual assault is grossly inadequate.

Without a clear, single idea out of the federal government, schools are going to continue the current process of caring more about their reputation than their students.

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