MIT’s response to proposed Title IX regulations

January 30, 2019

Dear members of the MIT community:

I write to update you about some new developments on Title IX regulations and to share how MIT is responding.

Last November, the Department of Education (Department) issued draft Title IX regulations for public comment. Title IX is the federal law which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The Department’s proposed regulations would significantly alter how colleges and universities are required to respond to complaints of sexual misconduct, a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.

Comments to the Department: Raising Concerns, Offering Recommendations for Improvements

While we agree with the Department’s stated goal of implementing policies that are fair and transparent to all parties involved in sexual harassment and assault cases, we are convinced that if the proposed regulations become final as currently written, it will become more difficult for colleges and universities to effectively address sexual harassment and discrimination and to ensure a safe campus environment.

We are concerned that the prescriptive and legalistic requirements of the proposed rules will create barriers to reporting sexual misconduct, to receiving support, and to seeking recourse. The draft rules impose onerous courtroom-like procedures that will likely involve outside lawyers and perhaps retired judges – changes that could have a chilling effect on reporting, could lead to delays in case resolution, and could erode the role faculty and staff play in upholding institutional values. These measures will also restrict the ability of academic institutions to align their internal disciplinary procedures with their unique educational missions.

We raised our concerns through the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities in Massachusetts (AICUM), the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of American Universities (AAU). MIT is a member of these associations, and we regularly work with them to express the Institute’s positions on federal and state laws and policies.

MIT helped to shape the associations’ comments on the Department’s Title IX proposal. We believe that these comments reflect the collective wisdom and real-life experience of thousands of higher education professionals who, like us, are committed to ensuring a fair, supportive, and equitable process for all. We determined that joining with the academic community to speak in a clear, unified voice was the best way to persuade the Department to address our collective concerns and recommendations for improvements. We do not yet know how they will respond to our feedback or when to expect final regulations.

In summary, we do not believe that the proposal will achieve the Department’s objective of promoting a fair process for all parties nor will it promote learning environments that are safe and free from sexual harassment and discrimination.

Moving Forward: Continuing to Promote and Support a Safe, Inclusive, Respectful Community

I want to take this opportunity to provide a brief update on our sexual misconduct prevention and response work:

  • Data: To enhance our understanding of how sexual misconduct impacts students, and to inform our decision-making going forward, we will be administering the AAU’s 2019 sexual assault and misconduct climate survey to undergraduate and graduate students this April. The survey will help us assess the policies and programs we put in place following our first survey in 2014 and it will help us create a new community dialogue about solutions. We are also reviewing how to enhance our current software systems so that we can better track and report on faculty and staff misconduct cases the way we do now for student misconduct cases.
  • Education and Prevention Efforts: All incoming MIT students are required to complete online training so that they understand what constitutes sexual misconduct, how to prevent it, and how to help someone affected by it. Last year, we extended this training requirement to all faculty and staff, and achieved nearly 100% participation. This demonstrates our community’s commitment to being part of the solution to this pervasive problem.
  • Resource, Policy, and Process Enhancements: For all of our policies, we are committed to ensuring that faculty, students, and staff can easily understand the options available to them, know the rights of all involved, and are confident that any report will be handled in a fair, consistent, and transparent manner. To meet these goals, we regularly review our policies to see how they are working and to determine how they can be strengthened.

    Last spring, we started to follow through on a pledge we made to assess the implementation of new student sexual misconduct disciplinary policies. We decided to make several changes, including some aimed at streamlining the process, but held back on conducting a more extensive review until the Title IX regulations are finalized.

    This spring, a working group comprised of leaders from Human Resources, the Provost’s Office, the Title IX and Bias Response Office, and the Office of the General Counsel will propose an enhanced model and process for handling sexual misconduct complaints against staff and faculty. The updated policy and process will reflect over a year’s work by the group – they have examined our current policies, lessons learned from past cases, national best practices, and how our peer institutions address complaints of this nature. The proposed model and process will be available for review by community representatives before being finalized.

Creating a campus environment that is safe, inclusive, and respectful takes sustained effort and investment from every member of our community. No matter what the Department’s final regulations ultimately require, I believe that if we work together, we can meet President Reif’s charge to us: “actively build a culture that treats sexual harassment, coercion and assault as taboo, absurdly out of bounds — unthinkable for anyone, of any age, in any context.”


Cynthia Barnhart

Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct at MIT
If you or someone you know needs to talk, help is available.

To learn more about reporting an incident to the Institute:

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For 24-hour support & information:
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