As they waited for clarification of Title IX guidelines proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — which would change the way many universities handle cases of sexual misconduct — Princeton officials expressed confidence that its existing system is working well.
Among other changes, the proposed guidelines would allow universities to raise the burden of proof required in Title IX investigations from “preponderance of the evidence” to a “clear and convincing standard.” Critics of the proposal say it would undermine the rights of victims and make it harder for them to come forward.
“We think our system is working really well,” said Vice Provost Michele Minter. “It uses preponderance [of evidence], and that has allowed us to both keep the campus as safe as possible and provide fairness. Depending on where the final regulations land, we might have to make significant changes, and we would aim to make the new policy as fair and responsive as we could.”
On Nov. 16, DeVos announced the release of a sexual-misconduct proposal that includes both suggestions and mandates for how universities investigate Title IX complaints. If enacted, the proposal could narrow the definition of sexual harassment for universities.
“There are many things in the proposed regulations that are confusing, contradictory, and well-intentioned, but it is difficult to understand how they would be implemented.”
— Vice Provost Michele Minter
Minter said one of the biggest potential changes for Princeton is a proposal to allow advisers of the accused — who could be lawyers — to cross-examine the accuser. Princeton’s current system does not allow for cross-examination by people affiliated with either party.
Another proposed rule would give universities the ability to opt out of investigating reports of off-campus misconduct. Princeton currently regulates conduct by members of the University community on campus or in the local vicinity — including at the eating clubs — and has no plan to change its policy to exclude conduct that takes place off campus, Minter said.
“There are many things in the proposed regulations that are confusing, contradictory, and well-intentioned, but it is difficult to understand how they would be implemented,” she said. “We will be collecting questions and working with the various consortiums and higher-ed associations to provide some useful feedback.”
Individuals and institutions can provide feedback during a public comment period that runs through Jan. 28. As of mid-December, Princeton was still deciding whether it would submit comments.
While any concrete Title IX policy changes are months away, Minter said the campus community would have “a lot of opportunities to be involved” in that process. She said certain changes to University policy would require approval by the faculty and the Council of the Princeton University Community, which would provide for community input.