Reflections on Title IX

So much is happening on the national and regional scene that it is hard to keep track and — more importantly — to react in a thoughtful manner. Quick posts and tweets feel unsatisfying given the complexity of most of these topics. As a result, I am going to try to post periodic reflection pieces on topics of relevance to such areas as our Elms college community, the Greater Pioneer Valley Region, the field of higher education, or just our common humanity.

So please watch for these periodic reflections and let me know what you think of them.

The idea for this has been simmering in my head for a while, but the inevitable question has been: Where will I find the time to keep up with this commitment? This week, however, the necessity has become very clear, thanks to the Chronicle of Higher Education article “Would the Education Dept.’s New Title IX Rules Save Colleges Money?”

The article analyzes the proposition by the Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos to “lower the bar for when colleges must conduct sexual assault or sexual harassment investigations under Title IX, the federal gender-equity law.” The rationale or pretense is that a lower bar would yield to fewer investigations and therefore would reduce costs.

I had to read the article twice to make sure that it was real.

There is no doubt that colleges and universities need to reduce their costs, both to survive and to lower the price for a college education. I know that all too well, as someone who has spent much of my career in higher education finance at very diverse institutions.

At the same time, having been at various institutions, I know that what parents do not want to hear is that the bar will be lowered for what is considered sexual assault. I also know that what students do not need at all is the introduction of any ambiguity on campuses about what a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct means. What they need is a requirement to treat each other with absolute respect.

As the parent of a college student and a soon-to-be college student, this is one area in which I do not want any college to cut corners: Institutions must proactively increase programming that enhances the awareness of all students about appropriate and inappropriate conduct.

Helping colleges to save money is a great initiative. But not at the cost of decency. No, thank you.

Harry E. Dumay, Ph.D., MBA
President of Elms College
Friday, September 14, 2018