The House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training yesterday held the latest in its series of hearings to discuss issues related to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, this time to deliberate on preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus.
Witnesses included Dana Scaduto, general counsel at Dickinson College (PA); Penny Rue, vice president at Wake Forest University (NC); Joseph Cohn, director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; and Lisa M. Maatz, vice president at the American Association of University Women.
In her opening statement, Scaduto explained that the changes in laws, regulations and sub-regulatory guidance—from the federal government, but also from states and institutions themselves—over the last four years have resulted in an extremely complex environment, an opinion echoed by many in the room.
She described the challenges higher education is facing in effectively helping victims and survivors of sexual assault, adding that colleges and universities need standards that take into consideration the diverse range of institutions and student populations and the flexibility to make these standards work. When campuses spend the bulk of their time dealing with complex compliance requirements, she said, they miss out on what educators do best: educating, informing and responding to students in need.
As in July’s Senate hearing on this issue, subcommittee members encouraged witnesses to tell them how the federal government could best help on the prevention front and in addressing sexual assault issues more broadly.
The response was a wide-ranging discussion of effective prevention programs, climate surveys, issues with trust in the criminal justice system, the pros and cons of mandatory reporting and the possibility of a “safe harbor” for campuses that are making an good-faith effort to respond to students in need within the existing framework of regulations, among many others.
To read the full testimony and view a webcast of the hearing, see the House Education and the Workforce Committee website.