Schools and universities should be informed that Title IX enforcement in the area of campus sexual assault might be scaled back or even eliminated under the new Trump administration. This is particularly significant for athletic directors, coaches, and conference commissioners who are focused on the proper role of collegiate athletic departments in combating and eradicating incidents of sexual violence perpetrated by athletes. Since 2011, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has issued detailed guidance documents and conducted investigations at more than 200 institutions involving allegations of this nature.
While no specific plan for addressing this issue was articulated by the Trump campaign, some Republican lawmakers have argued that rather than clarifying the law, OCR guidance has improperly expanded the scope of Title IX by increasing liability for institutions and relaxing the burden of proof in instances of gender-based bullying, harassment, and sexual violence. Some Trump spokespersons have suggested reducing Title IX enforcement capabilities, or advocated more drastic measures such as eliminating the Office for Civil Rights and/or the Department of Education. Given the uncertainty of the level of future enforcement, many higher education observers expect to see an increase in resolution agreements prior to the change in administration in January 2017, between the OCR and schools currently under investigation.
In the meantime, the NCAA states that it remains committed to defining the role of athletic departments in advocating for victims and survivors of sexual violence and working to prevent and educate about such incidents. A Commission comprised of college and university presidents conference commissioners, college athletes, activists and other sexual violence experts was recently appointed by the NCAA’s highest-ranking board and met for the first time in late October. The group aspires to propose solutions for what athletic departments, conferences, and the NCAA can do to address issues surrounding sexual violence and possibly develop national protocols.
For now, it is critical that schools and universities stay updated on all regulatory requirements and conduct education and training of key personnel to ensure that it properly investigates these matters and takes prompt and effective corrective action as required.