The Efforts of Obama administration to suppress the sexual assault on American college campuses will face a big legal challenge from one of the country’s largest campus civil liberties groups.
The Obama administration since 2011 has been significantly more antagonistic in trying to battle sexual assault on American campuses. A central part of this effort is 2011’s “Dear Colleague” letter which was sent to university presidents around the country by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Not to be considered as a regulation, it was generally seen as having the force of law, because it explains how the federal government plans to interpret existing regulations. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wants to take some legal against the same.
FIRE has been an advocacy group but in the last two years it has tailed a more aggressive strategy of undertaking lawsuits against schools that illegally stamp out student speech and freedom rights. FIRE has been engaged in promoting free speech, academic freedom, and many other concerns in relation to American Campus.
The letter issued by Obama administration had made the schools refurbish their approach to sexual assault on campus accordingly. Schools were ordered to adopt a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for judging sexual assault cases, a lower standard than many schools were using at the time. OCR also became far more insistent in investigating schools it believes may be insufficiently zealous in policing against assault. There are over 170 schools which are under its investigation, and the stakes are high: Schools found responsible for creating a “hostile environment” which can lose all federal funding.
FIRE executive Robert Shibley in a statement-
“In the five years since its issuance, OCR has acted as though the 2011 Dear Colleague letter is binding law—but it isn’t. By circumventing federal law, OCR ignored all stakeholders: victims, the accused, civil liberties advocates, administrators, colleges, law enforcement, and the general public. Real people’s lives are being irreparably harmed as a result. It’s time that OCR be held accountable.”
Since past two weeks many students have filed lawsuit to target OCR policies. One of the case was of Colorado State University student Grant Neal who claims that federal policies had created an anti-male environment that resulted in his unjustified suspension for sexual assault irrespective of weak evidence against him.
FIRE argues that the department’s definition is “breathtakingly broad” and amounts to an effort to force unconstitutional speech codes onto any college receiving federal money.