The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee April 2 held a hearing titled “Reauthorizing HEA: Addressing Campus Sexual Assault and Ensuring Student Safety and Rights.” The AAMC endorsed the testimony of Anne Meehan, director of government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education, who was one of the witnesses.
The bipartisan hearing addressed the Department of Education’s proposed rule regarding campus sexual harassment, and how Congress can best address this issue in Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 14, 2018].
In his opening statement, HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) discussed how HEA reauthorization will be an opportunity to examine and clarify the requirement of due process, including cross examination; the location of the alleged assault; and the definition of sexual harassment. Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) highlighted the importance of the way students are treated in sexual assault claims, noting, “every student should be treated equally and fairly, the process should be unbiased and transparent, and students should know what the process is before they enter it, and it should be consistent for all cases.”
Meehan’s testimony discussed the role of institutions in addressing campus sexual assault and echoed the comments the higher education community submitted to the Department of Education during the Title IX notice of proposed rulemaking [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 8]. She highlighted the important role of academic institutions in addressing sexual assault, noting, “colleges and universities have three overarching goals. First, we want to support the survivor. Second, we want processes that are fair to both parties. And third, while we appreciate clarity about what is expected of us, we also need flexibility to address these difficult cases in a compassionate and effective way for the individuals involved and for the campus communities in which they arise.”
Meehan also noted how colleges and universities should not be treated like courtrooms, stating that sexual assault is a “serious crime and colleges and universities are not courts. Campus disciplinary processes are designed to determine whether an individual has violated an institution’s specific code of conduct — not whether someone is guilty of a crime.” Ranking Member Murray and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) shared this belief and disagreed with the new rule instituted by the Department of Education that requires all campus sexual assault hearings to have cross examination between the accused and the accuser.
When asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about the prevention programs that institutions are implementing to combat campus sexual assault, Meehan discussed programs that are currently being used on campuses across the country to change the current campus culture and educate students on issues of sexual harassment.