dotEDU Episode 16: Preventing Sexual Harassment in Academia

Episode 16

​​​​​​​​​Aired Feb. 24, 2020

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Recent research into the prevalence of sexual and gender harassment in STEM fields has proven to be a much needed wake-up call to many in higher education. Frazier Benya, senior program officer at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine talks with Lorelle Espinosa and Sarah Spreitzer about how institutions can go beyond legal solutions to tackle the problem. Afterwards, Lorelle and Sarah dive into the latest into where the U.S. Department of Education is on issuing a final rule on existing Title IX regulations.

Episode Notes

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

From the introduction:

Hosts and Guests
Frazier Benya - Senior Program Officer, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine  - Guest
Frazier Benya
Senior Program Officer, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

 Read this episode's transcript

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the Higher Education Podcast from the American Council on Education. I am your host. Lorelle Espinosa, vice president for research at ACE and I'm here in our studios in Washington, D.C. with Sarah Spreitzer, director of government relations. Hey, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:00:20] Hey, Lorelle.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:21] How are you doing today?

Sarah Spreitzer [00:00:22] Pretty good.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:23] Yeah.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:00:23] Yeah.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:24] Well, a gloomy day today in Washington, but we're sunny in here. Sunny in here, it's a girls day in the podcast studio. Holding it down because Jon Fansmith, who is our typical lead host, is off in Florida enjoying the sunshine that we're not having here. But we're excited to be joined by another exciting guest, Frazier Benya, who is senior program officer at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. And Frazier is a member of the staff supporting the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine. And that's a standing committee of the National Academies. And I have gotten to know Frazier with my work that I've done with the academies and was really excited to participate in the release of a consensus study report that came out pretty recently entitled, "Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture and Consequences in Academic Sciences. Engineering and Medicine. So we're really happy to have you. Thanks for coming down.

Frazier Benya [00:01:22] Thanks for having me. Delighted to be here.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:01:25] So, Frazier, can you talk a bit for our audience members that may not be as familiar with the National Academies, what is the National Academies, the kind of role it plays and where your committee fits into the structure?

Frazier Benya [00:01:37] Sure. The National Academies is a nonprofit organization. It was actually started by the federal government, by Abraham Lincoln, surprisingly, many, many years ago.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:01:48] There's actually a cool exhibit when you go into your building of the paperwork and the things and speeches that Abraham Lincoln gave supporting the creation.

Frazier Benya [00:01:56] Indeed. And there's a great apocryphal portrait of when the academies was created. It's apocryphal   because all those people were not actually in the same room at same time. But it's a beautiful painting in our building. So, the Academies was founded to advise the nation on matters related to policies and practices and to use science, engineering and medical research to give that advice. They serve a convening role to bring experts and practitioners together to do this. And we often produce our consensus studies which reflect an actual consensus in D.C. on a specific topic.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:34] Can that happen in D.C.? Consensus. It can happen there at the gathering.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:02:38] Probably only at the Academies. And the Academies advise Congress, right? Often Congress may ask for reports from the National Academies.

Frazier Benya [00:02:47] Yeah, Congress usually asks a federal agency to ask the academies to conduct a report. So NSF or NIH oftentimes. But we'll work with any federal agency. We also work with private foundations and other institutions in the country to do work to advise on policies and practices.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:03:09] So then how did this report come about? I think it was an ad hoc committee of part of the standing committee?

Frazier Benya [00:03:14] So at the National Academies, we have a number of standing committees or boards that kind of keep track of and advise on what's happening in certain spaces and where guidance is needed. And so in our case, we have a committee on women in science, engineering and medicine. And their role is to coordinate, monitor and advocate for action to increase the participation of women in these fields. And so, in about very late 2015, there were increasing reports about sexual harassment happening in the STEM disciplines. And they started talking about what their role was and what evidence there was for sexual harassment being a significant factor in affecting the recruitment and advancement of women in these fields. So they were able to get some funding together to do an initial scoping workshop to figure out how much research is out there on the topic and what a consensus study might look like. They held that in the spring of 2016. And by the fall of 2016, with the excellent leadership of the chair of our Committee on Women, Rita Colwell, at the time, we raised enough funds to start the study in the fall of 2016 from a number of federal agencies and private foundations. And so we started what was a two-year consensus study process that fall and then released the report in June 2018.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:04:37] That's great. And the timing really kind of was, I don't want to say perfect, but the timing was interesting because obviously we saw the rise of the #MeToo movement and the impacts on campuses. And, you know, I know that the National Academies, it doesn't just like turn on the dime. It takes you time to do your work. And so the report was released in 2018. And it was just really great timing because it was right in the middle of that conversation. One of the things about the report is, you know, institutions of higher education, we deal with issues like, you know, Title IX, which has been very focused on campus sexual assault for the past couple years. We also have Title VII in our HR offices. And this report's a little broader. And so there's a different definition of sexual harassment that you use in the report. Can you talk a bit about the definition that you use?

Frazier Benya [00:05:31] So the committee reviewed both the legal scholarship and the social science scholarship that studies the behaviors that make up sexual harassment. And legally, they found that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. There are various ways it gets defined, but generally into two categories, whether it's quid pro quo harassment or it's harassment that creates a hostile environment. When the social scientists go and look at the behaviors and how it occurs, they've broken those two down into three categories, actually. So quid pro quo will map to what the researchers call sexual coercion. This is the typical "Sleep with me or you're fired" situation where someone is pressured to do something sexual in order to not be punished or to get ahead. And then the ways in which a hostile environment can be created is through pervasive or particularly severe incidents of either unwanted sexual attention or gender harassment. Unwanted sexual attention sounds a lot like what it sounds like. So in this case, though, it's important to note that the researchers include in this category everything from unwanted touching and hugging all the way up to sexual assault. So in this instance, something can be both a crime, a sexual assault, and a civil rights violation, sexual harassment. The gender harassing behavior is often what people don't think of as being a form of sexual harassment, but can create that hostile environment that a legal definition would classify as sexual harassment. And so gender harassment refers to verbal and visual conduct that conveys hostility, objectification, exclusion, second-class status about members of one gender. So it's not just women. Men can be gender harassed as well.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:07:25] I really appreciate that broadened definition or the fact that it encompasses gender harassment. Like you said, it's so important to pay attention to that because it creates a culture or a climate, really opportunity to see more severe cases of things occur. So I really like that it includes that. That's great. So, you know, we know from decades of looking at women in STEM, as we call the science, technology, engineering and math, and medicine, too, because you capture medicine, here as well. We know that women have made great gains in their participation in these fields. There's still a ways to go in some of them but what we don't talk enough about, I think, is how widespread the sexual harassment is. And, in the various definitions that you just laid out, how pervasive it is. And I really appreciated in your report, which I have right in front of me, it's a terrific report that anyone can download from the National Academies website for free. So definitely check it out. You really set that up right away: that we've made gains, but we still see this issue and we're seeing it just as pervasive as ever. And I wonder how you might characterize the findings of the consensus study given these two things.

Frazier Benya [00:08:46] Sure. Well, the first main finding was that sexual harassment is prevalent in these environments. The data the committee used, they pulled from surveys that were well validated and rigorous in terms of their methodology. And it finds that across higher education, women, faculty and staff, about 50 percent of them, so one in two--

Lorelle Espinosa [00:09:08] That's a lot. When I read that number, I was just floored. I mean, I've seen it. I've been in these environments, but to see it on paper in that way is really powerful.

Frazier Benya [00:09:19] It's also important to recognize that these surveys reflect...They ask the women about their experiences over a 1-3 year period of time. So they're not being asked to report how many times they've experienced sexual harassment over their entire lifetimes. So it becomes even scarier when you think that it's 50 percent of women over a couple of years. And the numbers are similar for women students. In this case, our report presented numbers for women students who experienced sexual harassment from faculty and staff members only. And in these cases, it can range between 20 and 50 percent of those women experiencing harassment.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:09:59] And that's across the fields, across the STEM fields.

Frazier Benya [00:10:03] It'll be across the STEM fields and even in non-STEM fields. Yeah, there are some higher rates in some areas, medical school students seem to have higher rates specifically of gender harassment.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:10:16] And what can you tell us about...You mentioned a moment ago that it can occur in other fields, too, obviously. What do we know about the predictors? How do you think about the predictors of harassment?

Frazier Benya [00:10:27] Yeah. So sexual harassment researchers have found actually that it's not an individual's characteristics that predict whether or not they will sexually harass someone else, but actually, the factors in the environment that they exist in that will predict whether harassment occurs. So the two most significant factors are whether an environment is male-dominated. This can occur in the most obvious way than just in terms of representation. There are more men in the space than women. But it can also occur if just the leadership is male-dominated. So medical schools actually provide a perfect example of this because the gender parity at the student level has been existing for a couple of years now. So there are female medical students at the same level as male medical students. But the problem is the leadership in medicine is still heavily male-dominated. So that environment is still going to be classified as being male-dominated. And then the third way it can exist is if culturally it's seen as abnormal for women to do the work in a certain field or workplace. So, for instance, you know, in our society we might observe that it's abnormal for women to work on an oil rig, for instance, or work on the New York Stock Exchange. And so those cultural beliefs are enough to make those environments male-dominated. Now, of course, in the STEM fields, there are many fields that have all three of those characteristics. The other really significant predictor of sexual harassment, it's actually the most significant predictor of sexual harassment, is whether the environment conveys a tolerance for the behavior. This, the researchers show, occurs when the community perceives that reporting is risky. When the community perceives that reports are not taken seriously and when the community perceives that perpetrators escape sanctions. And so I emphasize that "community perceives" part because it really is about the perception of the community. It's the climate they live in, the organizational culture is what we say we ascribe to. It's the values, the mission statements. It's our aspiration of what the environment we want to create. But the organizational climate is how people live and experience that on a day-to-day basis. So in sexual harassment, we have the policies that say sexual harassment is not tolerated. But on a day-to-day basis, their perception is that they're not taken seriously, it's risky to report and people don't face sanctions.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:13:02] That says something about communicating. When people are facing some kind of sanction, that that's transparent so that people... it could be happening, but if it's under the radar, it doesn't contribute to the climate. That's interesting.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:13:18] Yeah. And that sounds like that's much broader than just the STEM fields. So I know, Frazier, you've been going out talking at a lot of conferences, meeting with institutions. Do you hear from leadership or people in the humanities or business, law schools? Are you hearing from non-STEM disciplines?

Frazier Benya [00:13:39] Yeah. When I've gone to visit campuses, we often meet with faculty and students that are outside of the STEM disciplines and they ask whether or not they have a problem, too. And I respond that, "Yes, if your environment has these same predictors of sexual harassment, then you're likely going to have high rates of sexual harassment as well." And we know that there are fields in the humanities that have male-dominated environments, for instance. And same in law schools. Those are male-dominated. Business schools. So those are risk factors that across higher education we should be conscious of.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:14:14] I mean, reading kind of the recommendations, the findings in the report, I think there are a lot of things that you could take and apply to all of academia. And I was rereading the recommendations last night. And, you know, I think the first two: create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments and then number 2, address the most common form of sexual harassment, gender harassment. Those are really aimed at the culture of our institutions.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:14:39] And they go a long way.

Frazier Benya [00:14:42] The gender harassment piece is crucially important. And you just noted one of the key findings, which was that despite our perception of sexual harassment in our country, the less physical forms are actually the most common. So the gender harassment is the most common form. We actually have an image in the report that has become rather iconic and it's an iceberg image that lays the three different types of sexual harassment on it. And the waterline for the iceberg is the level of public consciousness or awareness around the term sexual harassment. So everything that's above the waterline are the sexual coercion behaviors and the unwanted sexual attention. What's below the waterline is the gender harassment. And of course, this metaphor serves a second use because, as with icebergs, what's underwater is the dangerous part. It's what sinks the ship. And one of the key findings from the report is also that gender harassment can be as damaging both professionally and personally and in terms of health to someone as a single instance of sexual coercion.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:15:51] Well, it's also interesting because the report notes about the money and the time and the resources that have been put into encouraging women to go into STEM fields. Because we have a disproportionate number of women in those fields. And some of those efforts don't take into account sexual harassment and the role that that plays in the discipline.

Frazier Benya [00:16:14] Absolutely. I mean, we are increasingly seeing more efforts to improve the diversity and representation of women and people of color in our higher education space. But unless they're integrated into the system in a way that, for instance, in hiring and promotion processes and in how students are evaluated in their performance, as well as employees at institutions, then it's a one-off situation in which just the one supervisor or one department chair is holding the line and it's not sort of consistently applied across an institution.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:16:51] That's interesting. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back after this short message. So something that I love that you're doing with this work, Frazier, you and your team, is that you're not stopping short of putting the report out, which, of course, on its own is incredibly valuable, or you're not stopping short of what we might think of traditional dissemination conferences where I see you often out there going to campuses as well. But you've adopted what appears to be a successful model of an action collaborative. And I even love the name. It sounds like something that I want to be involved in and in fact, ACE is involved. But tell us more about this collaborative.

Frazier Benya [00:17:33] Sure. So it's been over a year and a half since we released the report. And during that time we've been invited, myself, committee members from the report, have been invited to speak about the report at campuses. And we've done over 50 presentations across the country. And every time we go and we present the report, people become inspired and excited to work on implementing the recommendations. They understand the research and they know why they need to make these changes. So now they feel motivated to figure out how to do it at their own institution. So when we recognize that, we realize that there is a role for the National Academies to play. We are a convener. We did produce the report. We know a lot of the research about it. And so it seemed a natural fit for us to form a collaborative space for institutions to do this work and also to recognize that they didn't need to reinvent the wheel every time. But there are ways that, one institution's practices could be adapted to another. So our concept of an action collaborative is one in which it brings together a coalition of the willing to work on a specific systemwide problem in which one institution cannot solve it by themselves. And so we provide that space. In this instance, our action collaborative is deliberately set up to collaborate in terms of identifying, developing and implementing approaches and practices that can prevent and address sexual harassment. There's a heavy emphasis on the prevention piece because of the recognition of these predictors of high rates of sexual harassment.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:19:07] Who's involved with the collaborative? Is it just institutions?

Frazier Benya [00:19:11] It's mostly higher education institutions at this point. But we do also have some research institutions, some national labs and other lab sites that have researchers and students come in at varying points in the education process.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:19:29] That's great. And folks here in D.C., like ACE who was at the very release event, that's when you had first pitched the idea or presented on the idea of a collaborative. And we're excited to disseminate the work that will be coming out of it. That's really exciting. Tell us a little bit about the involvement of the disciplinary societies, because that's an area that Sarah and I have talked about and that we've been interested in. Tell us more about how they got involved.

Frazier Benya [00:19:59] So similarly, there's an effort amongst the disciplinary societies to also collaborate and identify best practices, not just for them as societies, but also any guidance they can give specifically to STEM fields and departments in higher education. So their effort is called Societies Consortium and they're doing a lot of work. Already you've seen scientific and professional societies be very explicit about their codes of conduct for their members, not just that this is something that they may see once in a decade, but that it's now being explicitly shown to people when they register for meetings. They're reminded of it when they show up at the meeting. It's also very clearly articulating that these societies will investigate and handle behavior that happens at their meeting sites, which is a significant change.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:20:55] Which is where we know much of this activity can occur right at the conference where there's a mix of senior faculty, junior faculty, graduate students, sometimes undergraduate students.

Frazier Benya [00:21:06] Absolutely. And we've been having conversations between the Societies Consortium and our action collaborative, because, of course, there is the problem of sharing information. And if an academic institution has a finding of responsibility about someone, what obligation do they have to share it with the scientific society so that their own students who go to that society meeting, feel protected and safe? You know, if a higher education institution has banned a faculty member from campus to protect their students, then what happens when they all show up at the society meeting and the same goes the other way? If society has a finding of responsibility, what obligation do they have to share with the higher ed institution?

Sarah Spreitzer [00:21:45] And I think some institutions are starting to think about also what does it mean for faculty to move between institutions and how much they can actually share with the institution that the faculty member is going to?

Frazier Benya [00:21:57] Absolutely. This is one of the most exciting, concrete ways our recommendations have started to be put into practice. It's to address what is anecdotally called the pass-the-harasser problem. And it's a problem that you have to tackle from two sides. Both as the institution that may be hiring someone new who potentially has a finding of responsibility, but also from the perspective of an institution that may have someone who has a finding of responsibility and they may be being asked for a reference about that person for a new institution to hire. Two institutions have put out new policies and practices for how to do this. The University of California, Davis is approaching it from the hiring institution side, and they've instituted a pilot program where they ask tenure-track applicants to sign a waiver that gives UC Davis permission to access their previous institution's records about findings of responsibility. Basically, it is, you know, a requirement that if you don't sign the waiver, then the application doesn't move forward. That said, they are very explicit that they do not look into the records until you are determined to be a finalist. So it wouldn't be something that gets used to weed people out in early stages. Then the University of Wisconsin system has tackled this problem a bit more from the side of being an institution that may have information that a new institution might want to know about. So they now will share findings of responsibility with another institution that asks for references. They've also very explicitly put in place some practices to ensure that any institution that contacts someone at Wisconsin for a reference is told that the HR office will provide these documented findings. So that's trying to shift higher education into increasingly asking for references and information about findings of responsibility and also kind of being a responsible party.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:24:07] Are there any other examples of institutions kind of taking proactive steps that other institutions may be interested in borrowing from or looking at more closely?

Frazier Benya [00:24:17] Absolutely. There's two others that come to mind that were spoken about at our summit. One is the Aero Astro Department at M.I.T. is working to provide independent funding to students as part of supporting those who may have experienced sexual harassment and diffusing that power differential between advisers and trainees. It's a really vulnerable population. And so at M.I.T., they recently decided specifically in that one department to provide one semester of independent funding to any graduate student that wanted to change advisers for any reason. So you don't have to out yourself for being a target of sexual harassment. And if what you need in that moment is to get away from your advisor and figure out a new career path or how you're gonna get through grad school, then you can do that first and worry about formal reporting and other things later. I can say that when they spoke at our summit, they said that M.I.T as an institution is now thinking about how they scale that up to across the whole institution. And then the other example that's really exciting and innovative is that we often want to hold people accountable for these behaviors, particularly when they're hired or promoted. We talked about the hiring piece already, but the promotion part has been a challenging piece. But at Rutgers, they have recently started a process that will go into effect in the next academic year where they are explicitly giving direction to their promotion and tenure committees to include consideration of misbehaviors, including sexual harassment. They actually found that they had a faculty--.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:25:56] They didn't do that already?

Frazier Benya [00:25:58] They didn't, and they're not alone. Many institutions that don't explicitly include these behaviors in promotion practices, oftentimes because they're explicitly told to focus on research, service and teaching and there's nothing in there explicitly about the sexual harassment. So Rutgers found that they had a faculty code of conduct that explicitly said no sexual harassment and bunch of other things. And it's just that that code of conduct was not tied into considerations of promotion. So they are now tying those two together and explicitly saying you must consider these factors in deciding promotion.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:26:34] That seems like such an easy thing to do, too.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:26:37] Yeah. It's a no brainer. Yeah.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:26:39] Very low hanging fruit.

Frazier Benya [00:26:40] You would think it would be a no brainer. It takes a little bit of digging into institutional policies and to see what is actually happening on the ground. It's about taking the values that we say we ascribe to and sort of embedding them into the process.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:26:54] Yeah. And that could go for so many issues. But certainly when it comes to climate for institutions to really take a look at their mission statement, their value statements, any other of these statements that they put out, put in handbooks, et cetera, and really say,  "Okay, they exist on paper. How do we connect them to the day-to-day experiences of our communities?" So that's a terrific example and really mirrors of course, higher ed mirrors many other industries. The private sector also wrestling with this and things you read about in the news everyday about how is it to be known if people are jumping around to different jobs.

Frazier Benya [00:27:32] Yeah. And we've seen...since both institutions have presented at one of our public summits that we held back in November, we've heard a number of institutions are exploring how to adapt and apply, both UC Davis' practices and the University of Wisconsin systems to their institutions. So it appears to be spreading more widely.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:27:52] So I guess if you are an institution, you're a provost or a president or somebody else in higher ed leadership listening to this podcast and you're interested in learning more about the action collaborative, some of these practices, what to do on your campus, what's the next step?

Frazier Benya [00:28:08] Yeah. So every year the Action Collaborative will host a public summit deliberately with the intention of engaging a broader community in these conversations, both to share what action collaborative members are doing, but also to hear from the broader community about what they think action collaborative members should be doing and to inform all of this work with good research. The Academies, the National Academy of Sciences, obviously is very interested in having research behind all of these practices. And so that's a strong emphasis of the action collaborative. As we move forward with the work of the action collaborative, we will be releasing information and resources for institutions to implement and adapt these other practices to provide guidance on, for instance, how to conduct a campus climate survey, considerations you should take into account, those sorts of things. So they're all in the works. But the idea is to use the action collaborative members to produce information that can be shared with the broader community.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:29:05] And I think the last meeting that you had in Seattle, it's online, when you go and look at the original report, actually, you can see the first convening that Lorelle was on the panel for. And so you can get the information kind of through that.

Frazier Benya [00:29:18] Yes. It's a very deliberate decision on our part to make sure that all of our public summits are webcasted and the video recordings are all available. We had concurrent sessions happening all at same time and we webcasted everything. And all of those videos are up so you can learn about the practices at University of California, Davis and the University of Wisconsin system. We had many other examples of institutions doing work on our recommendations.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:29:45] That's terrific. I love the fact that, of course the Academies focuses on the STEM fields, but clearly this is a report that is widely applicable to many fields and many different contexts and environments. So we really appreciate you coming to to share this with us. And I'm look forward to talking to you again in the future about how the collaborative goes.

Frazier Benya [00:30:07] Thanks, definitely, I'd  come back again.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:30:09] Thanks, Frazier.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:30:18] Well, that was terrific.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:30:20] It was really, really good. I mean, I was saying to Frazier before started that it's an interesting report because it definitely hasn't sat on a shelf.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:30:28] Yes, exactly. As many reports do. This is not one of those. And the community has embraced it in a way that really says a lot about both the need and also the lack of information, guidance, recommendations. Institutions just really wanting to dove in because they want to know where to start or where to continue. I mean, it's just really, really powerful and obviously powerful for where we are in this moment in history as a nation, given this issue, the #MeToo movement and, you know, just so timely that they picked this up around that time and has contributed a great deal. And also as a higher education community, of course, we are in the midst of waiting for that Title IX regulations. I know you and Jon and others, Anne Meehan here and others on your team are paying a lot of attention. So, where are we with that?

Sarah Spreitzer [00:31:27] I have to think back a bit. So remember, the Way back Machine, right?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:31:34] Yeah.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:31:35] So remember, back in 2017, the Trump administration actually rescinded the Obama-era guidance on Title IX that had to do with campus sexual assault. And in the place they put up some...I think they were FAQs that campuses were supposed to follow? In 2018, they issued a notice of proposed rulemaking with a draft rule around Title IX for notice and comment. And then we submitted comments actually a year ago in January of 2019. And I think that was probably one of the most popular routes for...I don't know if popular is the right word.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:32:17] The most-commented?

Sarah Spreitzer [00:32:18] Yeah, the most commented-on because I know that they had over 100,000 comments.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:32:22] I know, it's insane.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:32:23] It's crazy. And so the department actually has to respond to every single one of those comments. They can aggregate them. So like if everybody comments on...One of our big issues was the requirement to have live hearings, they could have one comment regarding that issue. But it's taken them a while. So that was back in early 2019 comments were due. And then, you know, the department takes in the comments. They respond to them. They may rewrite the rule and then they send it to the Office of Management and Budget in the White House. And that's where it is right now, waiting for final approval. And I think our team went in and met with the OMB late last year, and it seems like they're wrapping up the meeting. So everyone is kind of waiting for the final rule to be issued. And I mean, we had been hearing rumors that it would come out before the holidays. And obviously it didn't. And the newest rumor is it's going to come out next week, but I don't really know.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:33:24] Maybe on Friday.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:33:25] They tend to be released on Friday. We know Secretary Devos is testifying before the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. I doubt she's going to want to release it before she goes up to testify before the House. But yeah, so I guess it would be any time now.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:33:40] And by next week you mean the week of the 24th? Because of course, we're recording on the 20th, if people want to know.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:33:48] That's correct. But yeah, it's really hard to tell because again, we heard these rumors that it would be for the holidays, end of January, and now we're hearing next week. I think just for people to be ready. That something is going to be coming out soon.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:34:02] And it'll have a major impact on the news. And everyone will be speculating, I'm sure, and thinking about how to put these into practice and what happens on the ground. We'll be doing some things. What do you all have planned?

Sarah Spreitzer [00:34:20] I think we have a webinar that's going to be planned shortly after the final rules are released and there's a way to sign up to get informed when the date and the time is actually set.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:34:31] If you go to our Web site.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:34:32] Yeah. And, you know, I think one of the things that will happen right away is there will be lawsuits brought against the final rule that will try to stop it. So it's unclear when it would actually be implemented.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:34:42] So would campuses...just because I don't live in the world you live in. But would campuses like in that moment start to think about how do we enact this here?

Sarah Spreitzer [00:34:54] So I think that's for our lawyers to talk about and that'll likely be discussed on the webinar. And then the only other thing I would say is it will likely complicate matters for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:35:08] So how will it complicate it?

Sarah Spreitzer [00:35:10] Well, you know, Title IX isn't actually in the Higher Education Act, but I think that there will be people that want to respond to the final rule and incorporate things into the reauthorization bill that address some of the concerns with the final rule.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:35:24] Well, you can listen to this episode, share it with your friends, send it out on social media, on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also go to our Web site. We'll have notes from our show today there, including some of the resources that we've been talking about along the way. That's And as always, please email us with ideas for guests, for topics, with questions at Thanks for listening.

Sarah Spreitzer [00:35:59] Thanks.​

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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