An entire college generation’s civil liberties are being stripped away from them, and the vast majority of us are not even aware it is going on. This is being done via the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR), which has issued Title IX compliance “guidance” to all publicly funded colleges and universities. While the OCR insists that this and other directives are not binding, virtually all of our nation’s publicly funded institutions of higher learning have adopted policies in compliance with their guidelines.
Right now, the Senate has been requested to further fund the OCR’s implementation of their directives with $137.7 million, and this request is observing a period of public commentary prior to a decision being made. Commentary is available to be sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee by April 15th.
I have drafted a letter, and amassed over 160 student signatures of support within just several days, calling on this committee to withhold funds from the OCR until they change their guidance to comply with students’ legally protected rights. If you or a student you know is interested in adding your name in support, contact me via my email address by sending me your name and the college/university you attend to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How these guidelines strip my generation of their lawful rights to due process and free speech is elaborated upon within the letter below. We as a generation can no longer allow those in power to conduct themselves in this manner. The student movement to end the OCR’s illegal actions starts today; it starts with your signature.
Jake Goldberg & Fellow Students
Prepared for the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies
Department of Education
Dear Chairman Cochran, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, Chairman Blunt, and Ranking Member Murray:
I am writing on behalf of myself and my fellow students, whose names are listed below as a pledge of support, to express our strong disapproval for Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues’ request for $137.7 million in FY 2017 for the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR). We believe that no further funding should be provided to this department until OCR revises its illegal and immoral guidance to our colleges and universities.
Through its 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter (DCL), OCR has severely threatened students’ rights to free speech and due process on our college campuses. The DCL fails to explicitly differentiate offensive speech from sexually harassing conduct. This was not always the case with OCR guidelines. In OCR’s 2001 Guidance, acceptance of the Supreme Court’s Davis v. Monroe delineation between free speech and sexual harassment was unequivocally stated. In 2003, OCR’s DCL once again clearly substantiated the separation between offensive expression and sexual harassment. However, these protections were lost with the issuance of the 2011 DCL, which lacked any substantial speech protective directives. This lack of safeguarding free speech enabled OCR’s 2013 Findings Letter with the University of Montana to further jeopardize our rights. This document created a broad definition of sexual harassment by defining it as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that does not have to be objectively offensive. Though expressed as non-binding, this definition has still been widely adopted by our campuses all across the country. By allowing vague and far-reaching restrictions on speech to be incorporated into sexual harassment policies, DCL’s directives have led to the deprivation of our constitutional and contractual rights to free speech and expression.
Equally as important is the fact that the mandates set forth in the 2011 DCL have forced our schools to enact policies which effectively deny us of our due process rights when we are accused of violating sexual harassment policies and face disciplinary proceedings. By mandating a preponderance of the evidence standard for vague and far-reaching sexual harassment codes, DCL promotes a standard of evidence that is inconsistent with the severity of alleged conduct. Colleges and universities have responded to the mandates of OCR by establishing biased procedures with no regard to due process protections or a presumption of innocence. There is no reason that sexual harassment cannot be adequately addressed and simultaneously provide all students involved with fair and balanced procedures.
We will never support codes that promote disciplinary proceedings with high risks of error, as such flawed proceedings serve the interests of neither party involved. We will never support overly broad definitions of threatening conduct, as such policies undermine those who truly suffer from deplorable acts of sexual misconduct, and result in innocent people being accused of serious violations. OCR’s guidance does not offer more security for those who genuinely need it. Its guidance allows for the punishing of those of us who hold thoughts and beliefs which others simply don’t wish to hear. Its guidance promotes biased, unfair procedures through illegal mandates that our schools are forced to adhere to. OCR’s guidance does nothing to protect our civil liberties; it destroys them.
Let us be clear. Today our voices number in the hundreds, next month they will be in the thousands, and within a year we will number over a million. We will not go away; we will no longer be silent; we will always be monitoring OCR’s actions. We as students will no longer tolerate unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats usurping our rights to free speech and due process. We will not stop speaking out until our requests become our realities. Our generation has ideals and views that should rise to the stars, yet OCR’s actions leave us suffocating in the strict stripes of their red tape. For these reasons, we ask that you withhold funding for the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education until they change their guidelines to conform with constitutionally established principles of free speech and due process. We appreciate your consideration of this request.