On Monday, Harvard University announced that embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would not be teaching his three-week Law School course this year. More than 800 alumni had signed a letter asking Harvard to cancel the class.
Additionally, student-activists had lobbied their classmates to file Title IX complaints against Kavanaugh. Nearly 50 students signed a petition indicating they had done so, though it's not clear all of them actually did, according to The Harvard Crimson.
Title IX is the federal statute that mandates sex equality in education. The Obama-era Education Department had also required universities and colleges to adjudicate sexual misconduct in accordance with the federal government's expansive view of Title IX. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is currently revising this guidance.
One of the reasons Title IX reform has been so urgently necessary is that aggrieved students have weaponized the process in order to silence people—other students, invited speakers, faculty members—who offend them. Using Title IX to get rid of Kavanaugh, who is not accused of anything that would sustain a hostile educational environment charge, is a perfect example of this. As Harvard Law professors Jeannie Suk Gearson and Janet Halley told the Crimson, student-activists are abusing the process:
"Such an abuse of process would undermine the legitimacy and credibility of complaints that the Title IX process is intended to deal with, as well as of the Title IX office to focus on its duties," Suk Gersen wrote in an email. "It might be effective in drawing further attention to some students' objection to Kavanaugh's teaching appointment, but I don't expect him to be found to have violated Harvard University's Sexual & Gender-Based Harassment Policy based on the currently known public allegations against him."
Janet Halley, another Law School professor with a background in Title IX law, also called the students' strategy of filing formal complaints unlikely to succeed.
"I urge the students to divert their energy from this implausible claim that he's going to create a sexually hostile environment by teaching at the Law School to the really grand issue of whether he's fit to be in his current judgeship or promoted to the Supreme Court," Halley said.
Samanatha Harris, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, agreed.
"This is such an absurd contortion of Title IX that I suspect even those filing the complaint know it's unlikely to succeed as a matter of law, and are doing it more as a publicity stunt than anything else," Harris wrote in an email to Reason. "While it is obviously their right to protest, they might consider whether forcing Harvard's Title IX office to devote its time and resources to this particular claim would undermine the office's ability to provide services to students in need."
Jacqueline Kellogg, the student who organized the campaign to file Title IX complaints against Kavanaugh, told the Crimson that using the Title IX process in this manner gives them "power" and legitimizes their "right to our feeling of being safe."
In an email to Reason, Kellogg defended her tactics.
"Using the Title IX process to file formal complaints against known abusers and harassers is exactly what the process is designed to do," wrote Kellogg. "It is not an abuse of process and I am extremely disappointed that Jeannie Suk Gersen and Janet Halley made these comments that may inevitably discourage students from exercising their rights and reporting when it is appropriate."