73% of Top U.S. Universities Do Not Guarantee the Presumption of Innocence in Title IX Sexual Misconduct Trials
A new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argues DeVos's due process reforms are urgently needed.
Among the top-ranked universities in the country, only about half require impartial fact-finders in sexual misconduct adjudication—and three-quarters make no guarantees that accused students will be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Those findings are included in a timely report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that surveyed U.S. News & World Report's top 53 universities' due process protections for students involved in disputes relating to Title IX, the federal statute that governs campus sexual misconduct. According to FIRE, just 30 percent of the schools guaranteed accused students a hearing, and only 10 percent mandated some form of cross-examination. As a result, 86 percent of surveyed institutions received a D or F grade for failing to safeguard the civil liberties of the accused.
"Students accused of serious campus offenses routinely face life-altering punishment without a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves," said the report's lead author, Susan Kruth. "Universities need to provide basic procedural protections that help ensure accurate outcomes, and right now they overwhelmingly do not."
Accused students are often unable to meaningfully defend themselves, barred from involving lawyers in the proceedings, and forbidden from questioning their accusers or presenting evidence on their behalf. As a result, many students found responsible for sexual misconduct have filed lawsuits that allege breach of contract on the part of administrators, as well as constitutional violations. As FIRE's report notes, 11 of the 15 institutions that received an F grade have dealt with such lawsuits.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently unveiled a series of proposed reforms to Title IX that would make the process significantly fairer. These would mandate some form of cross-examination, narrow the definition of sexual harassment, and require proper training for adjudicators. They also stress that accused students must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The reforms are currently undergoing a public notice and comment period as required by law. According to FIRE's report, if the surveyed universities adopted all of the new policies, their grades would rise to at least Cs.
It's great that FIRE continues to do the important working of protecting civil liberties on campus (unlike a certain other organization that purports to defend civil liberties).