Washington Watch: AACC urges refinements to Title IX rules in planned comments

U.S. Education Department (Photo: AACC)

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is putting the final touches on its comments on the Biden administration’s proposed Title IX regulations.

AACC’s comments complement and augment comments the higher education community is preparing under the auspices of the American Council on Education. Both sets of comments will be filed by the September 12 deadline.

As noted when they were released, the proposed regulations are an improvement over the status quo by offering institutions more flexibility in how they can handle cases of sex discrimination and sex-based harassment. At the same time, however, the regulations are much broader in scope because they address not only sexual harassment but sex discrimination, in general. They also still require institutions to follow a prescribed grievance procedure that in some cases will differ from how a college handles other code of conduct violations.

Potential scenarios

AACC’s comments will call attention to situations that may arise more frequently at community colleges than in other sectors of higher education. They will also point out how the proposed regulations need to be clarified or changed to avoid unnecessary burden and cost on institutions, while still ensuring that sex discrimination is adequately addressed.

For example, the proposed regulations would require institutions to address hostile environments on campus that are a result of harassment or other discrimination that occurred outside of its “educational program or activity” (the Title IX standard). Institutions would potentially need to use the grievance procedures proposed in the regulations in these cases. This is most likely to occur when something happened between two students off campus, and the presence of the respondent on campus creates an allegedly hostile environment for the complainant. However, the regulations do not take into account that the occurrence in question may have happened long before either the complainant or the respondent were students at the institution.

This type of incident is more likely to occur at community colleges, where students are older on average and attend college intermittently over long stretches of time. Is the institution really meant to conduct an investigation and grievance process in such cases? AACC’s comments recommend that the prescribed grievance processes not be required in these and other cases, while agreeing that institutions need to address them in other ways.

Required resources

The comments’ other major component is a general recommendation that institutions have ample time to implement the final rule. The proposed regulations would involve nearly every campus employee in implementing Title IX, and this will require significant training.

AACC’s comments highlight the fact that community colleges tend to be smaller, less-resourced institutions with thinner administrative structures and more adjunct faculty than their counterparts in other sectors. The burdens of implementing the proposed rules would be heavy in any case, but especially so soon after the Trump administration’s Title IX regulations took effect. AACC recommends that the U.S. Education Department closely review the proposed regulations to ensure they are broadly supported and less prone to another “whiplash effect” in the future.

ED has already received more than 350,000 comments. AACC urges its member colleges to make their voices heard in this rulemaking proceeding. To that end, AACC can provide its draft comments to help member colleges draft their institution’s response. For a copy, email jhermes@aacc.nche.edu.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
Jim Hermes is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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