The U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday it anticipates it will initiate a rulemaking process to amend the Trump administration’s regulation governing how colleges address sexual violence on campuses.
It will first review the Title IX rule, which limits the sexual misconduct cases that institutions have to investigate and critics say favors the accused.
The move is in line with executive action President Joe Biden took in March that ordered such an evaluation.
Biden pledged to unravel the Title IX rule put forth by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which was broadly unpopular among campus leaders and advocates for sexual violence prevention.
The regulation took effect in August. It constructs a judiciary-style system for assessing and potentially punishing sexual violence, in which both parties are allowed to cross-examine the other through a surrogate. It also restricts the cases colleges need to look into, including many of those that occur off campus. And it narrows the definition of sexual harassment, matching the one used by the U.S. Supreme Court in Title IX cases.
Legal experts have said it would be difficult for the Biden administration to immediately strike down the regulation, which was cemented through formal rulemaking and, therefore, carries the force of law.
However, Tuesday’s announcement matched what many of those experts predicted: that the administration would advise colleges on how to respond to the current regulation while moving to undo it. A letter Tuesday from a department official states it will publish a question-and-answer document in the coming months clarifying how the agency’s Office for Civil Rights “interprets schools’ existing obligations” under the current rule, including where colleges “have discretion” in their sexual violence policies.
The department will also hold a multiday hearing so students, educators and other interested parties can weigh in on Title IX changes, according to the letter.
“Today’s action is the first step in making sure that the Title IX regulations are effective and are fostering safe learning environments for our students while implementing fair processes,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.
Activists attempted to halt DeVos’ Title IX rule through court challenges, none of which have proven successful so far. A slew of Democratic lawmakers also recently urged Cardona to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to block the regulation.