BOOK REVIEW: 'Twisting Title IX'
- FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley has written a new book examining the evolution of Title IX from a law used to prevent discrimination to one that actually promotes unequal treatment.
- According to Shibley, the federal government has been consistently expanding its interpretation of the law, which is now frequently used to deny due process to students accused of sexual assault.
- He also notes that Title IX has become a threat to free speech, because colleges use it to punish students for even innocuous statements.
Since its inception 44 years ago, Title IX has gone from preventing gender-based discrimination to fostering it, according to Robert Shibley, Executive Director of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
In the book, “Twisting Title IX,” Shibley outlines the beginnings of Title IX as a simple law to prevent gender-based academic and athletic discrimination in federally funded institutions, then follows its progression over several decades, and concludes by examining the often-archaic interpretation we see today.
Shibley also tackles the Office for Civil Rights’ controversial 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, which mandated that the standard of proof in sexual assault cases be lowered to “preponderance of evidence.”
Using a combination of facts, history, and real-life accounts, Shibley’s book gives an informative and exhaustive explanation of how Title IX is abused on campus.
In an exclusive interview with Campus Reform, Shibley describes Title IX and how it contributes to free speech and other issues.
Campus Reform: In the beginning of the book, you mention a case at Stanford in which the student’s life was ruined because of false accusations of sexual assault. Does this happen more often than is reported in the mainstream news?
Robert Shibley: I think it definitely does. There are currently around 60 to 70 lawsuits from accused students who believe that they’ve been unfairly treated by their college or university. Many of them cite Title IX interpretations by the university or by the federal government as the reason for that unfair treatment.
Campus Reform: Also mentioned in your book is the case of Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis, who was subjected to an unfair trial in which she was not allowed to have a lawyer, nor was she allowed to hear the charges brought against her. Does this type of trial happen often on campus? Has Title IX robbed many students of a fair and proper trial?
Robert Shibley: I can tell you those happen all the time. It’s very frequent for people to be certainly denied a lawyer and very often they don’t have any good sense of what the charges against them might be. I think it is, in large part, the fault of the regulations that are being passed in the name of Title IX, but as I talk about in the book, the actual law says nothing about this at all. It's less about Title IX itself than the way it’s being interpreted in an abusive way by the federal government and by universities.
Campus Reform: How has Title IX contributed to or enabled the increasing tide of suppression of free speech on college campuses?
Robert Shibley: This is unfortunately another abuse from the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education along with the Department of Justice, which, in a settlement agreement with the University of Montana, put forth what they called a “blueprint” for sexual misconduct on campus. They redefined sexual harassment to be any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including verbal conduct. If you overhear a dirty joke that you don’t like, that would be considered sexual harassment. If you see a graphic poster or movie, even if you were just accidentally exposed to it, that’s sexual harassment.
The way that OCR tried to get out of the fact that that is obviously not something the Constitution would allow students at public universities to be punished for, they basically said that it is in fact sexual harassment, but you don’t have to punish them for it. They know that it’s a political impossibility for schools to call certain activity sexual harassment and refuse to do anything about it.
Campus Reform: So if a teacher is teaching a touchy subject and a student in their class feels that they’ve been subjected to a harmful environment, could they be charged with sexual harassment?
Robert Shibley: Any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including expression, is considered sexual harassment. There’s nothing in there saying teachers aren’t exempt from this. One of the real problems with the process that the Office for Civil Rights has been using to come up with these unlawful “regulations,” is that they didn’t have to struggle with the question you just asked me. You won’t know until OCR starts its investigation of you, it’s all vague and kind of up to their own opinion, and that’s a big part of the problem. It could be teachers, it could be students, it could be anybody on a college campus; nobody really knows.
Campus Reform: What would be a course of action for students who believe that they’ve been falsely accused by their university’s Title IX office?
Robert Shibley: One thing they can do is contact FIRE; we obviously have a concern with this. Because this is such an important issue and can affect your life profoundly, another thing they can do is hire an attorney and see if there any potential legal remedies. I think in many cases they’re unlikely to be successful because of the state of the law; however, if the university has broken its own rules, which happens often, there’s a good chance that you may have some remedy.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ChrisNuelle