Alexander: Congress Must Bring Certainty, Stability to the Laws Governing How Colleges Respond to Accusations of Sexual Assault

Posted on April 2, 2019

“I would like to focus on three issues raised by the Education Department’s proposed Title IX rule: The requirements of due process, including cross examination; the effect of the location of the alleged assault; and the definition of sexual harassment. As Congress seeks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year, we should do our best to agree on ways to clarify these three issues.” – Sen. Lamar Alexander  

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2019 — U.S. Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said, “the more we clarify three key issues raised by the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rule, the more certainty and stability we will give to the law governing how institutions of higher education should respond to accusations of sexual assault.”

“If you are an administrator at one of 6,000 American colleges and universities and you ask your legal counsel what laws the institution must follow when it comes to allegations of sexual assault, your counsel would reply that there are several places to look,” Alexander said. “First, you would look to federal statutes. Two federal laws govern allegations of sexual assault, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Clery Act.  Next your counsel would refer you to regulations based upon these two federal laws. These regulations also have the force of law. Your counsel will also tell you that sometimes the U.S. Department of Education will send out a letter or guidance to institutions, giving its interpretation of what a law or regulation might mean.

“That is not all your legal counsel would tell you,” Alexander continued. “If you’re the president of a public institution – where 80 percent of undergraduates attend college – your counsel would remind you that your disciplinary process must meet the standards of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution which says ‘nor shall any state deprive any person or life, liberty, or property without due process of law.’ And then finally you’d have to look at any applicable state laws. This array of laws and regulations creates a challenge for college administrators, for students who allege an assault, and for those who are accused to know what the law requires. So the purpose of today’s hearing is to hear how we can create more certainty in how colleges and universities should appropriately and fairly respond to allegations of sexual assault.”

Chairman Alexander made his remarks today at a Senate education committee hearing to examine the process for responding to sexual assault on college campuses. Today’s hearing was the second hearing of this Congress on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

“I would like to focus on three issues raised by the Department’s proposed rule: The requirement of due process, including cross examination; the location of the alleged assault; and the definition of sexual harassment,” Alexander said. “In the future, regulations with the force of law and guidance letters that are merely advisory will continue to interpret federal laws and constitutional requirements governing allegations of sexual assault on campus. But as Congress seeks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year, we should do our best to agree on ways to clarify these three issues. The more we do that the more certainty and stability we will give to the law governing how institutions of higher education should respond to accusations of sexual assault.”

On March 12, the committee held a hearing on FAFSA simplification and reducing the burden of verification. In February, Alexander outlined his priorities for updating the Higher Education Act at the American Enterprise Institute.

You can read Alexander’s full prepared remarks here.

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