The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing yesterday on “Sexual Assault on Campus: Working to Ensure Student Safety,” continuing the federal government’s efforts to weigh in on this very sensitive and complex issue.
The focus was two-fold, with one panel comprised of Education Department (ED) officials and a second made up of student and former-student activists.
Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning both note the tough questions senators had for Catherine Lhamon, ED's assistant secretary for civil rights, and James L. Moore III, a manager with ED’s Clery Act Compliance Division. The Obama administration has sought to use regulations, a range of guidance documents and task force recommendations to push colleges and universities to better handle sexual assault cases.
Most recently, ED released a proposed rule to implement changes to the Clery Act under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which the president signed in March 2013. In April, a White House task force issued a report, based on information gathered from students, administrators, law enforcement and other officials, which included new guidelines and suggested programs and policies to help colleges and universities prevent, identify and respond when an incident occurs on campus.
Noting the only penalty ED can impose on institutions that violate Title IX is complete removal of federal funding, Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA ) asked Lhamon whether the department needed the authority to use more intermediate punishments (her answer: No).
On the other side of the aisle, ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) questioned whether ED had overreached its authority in issuing guidance and imposing regulations without going through the usual rule-making process.
ACE President Molly Corbett Broad sent a letter to the committee in advance of the hearing, weighing in on some of the questions raised by committee members, including the difficulties brought about by ED’s Office of Civil Rights’ policies and procedures and how they might be resolved.
She outlined steps Congress could take to help support these programs and facilitate campus response to assaults, including more funding for research into education and prevention training programs and clarifying the trio of federal laws (the Clery Act, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act) that address campus sexual assault.
She also discussed the need to remove federal barriers that undermine institutions’ ability to work closely with local law enforcement agencies when these cases arise, a problem raised in the hearing by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
To read witness testimony and view a full webcast of the hearing, see the committee’s website.