The ‘Social Justice Factory’ and Biden’s Title IX Regulations

The onerous new guidelines are sure to victimize the innocent and deny students and faculty free speech

In June, the Biden administration’s Department of Education rolled out new Title IX guidelines detailing how schools must address sexual discrimination and widening the areas of personal interaction and the “identities” protected under the rule.

In fact, the 701-page regulations “Clarify the Department’s view of the scope of Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination, including related to a hostile environment under the recipient’s education program or activity, as well as discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity [emphasis added].”

The real question is not whether individuals who identify as the opposite gender are correct in doing so. That is certainly their right. The problem for universities—and the students and faculty who are part of those communities—is whether one person’s gender dysphoria, sexual preference, or attitudes about gender and sexuality in general can, or should, compel others to not only agree with a biologically impossible reality, but to treat the transgender person with special deference.

Just as the 2011 Obama-era Title IX “Dear Colleague” letter stacked the deck against male students who were reflexively thought to be guilty sexual victimizers of passive and innocent women, the new Biden Title IX guidelines seem destined to make victims out of more students and faculty who push back or ignore the prevailing sexual orthodoxy on campuses—to their potential legal and professional detriment. Observers have already warned that the new Biden regulations will result in what has not undeservedly been called a “Title IX Inquisition.”

No one is suggesting that people cannot identify as another gender at will; but they cannot and should not expect everyone else to recognize their mental and physical transformation and to force—by law—everyone to willfully participate in this gender fantasy or be censured.

Consider, for example, the instructive case of a Shawnee State University philosophy professor, Nicholas Meriwether, who was recently awarded $400,000 on appeal in a First Amendment lawsuit against the school. In 2018, a male transgender student filed several complaints against the professor because Meriwether initially called the student “Mr.” before he knew the student was transgender. Meriwether then only agreed to call the student by his last name and not the preferred pronoun, an accommodation which the school rejected but which Meriwether contended was his constitutionally protected right.

After Shawnee disciplined Meriwether and placed a negative report in his records, the professor sued, claiming, rightfully, that the university’s non-discrimination policy was unconstitutionally violative of his First Amendment rights and that, in punishing him reputationally and professionally, the university had illegally retaliated against him for what is protected speech.

[Related: “Education Department Proposes Title IX Regulation to Restrict Free Speech”]

In his appeals case, Meriwether v. Hartop, et al., the court found that although Shawnee’s policies state that “a hostile environment exists only when ‘there is harassing conduct that limits, interferes with or denies educational benefits or opportunities, from both a subjective (the complainant’s) and an objective (reasonable person’s) viewpoint,’” the school’s “Title IX report does not explain why declining to use a student’s preferred pronouns constitutes harassment. It does not explain how Meriwether’s conduct interfered with or denied Doe or Doe’s classmates any ‘educational benefits or opportunities,’ let alone how an ‘objective observer’ could reach such a conclusion.”

Shawnee had not even attempted to prove that any harassment was experienced by the Plaintiff or any other students, transgender or otherwise, or that Meriwether created a “hostile environment.” Nevertheless, in the thrall of woke identity politics, which seems to compel universities to bend over backward to protect the oft-offended victim groups of their respective campuses, cases like this expose the looming pitfalls inherent in vague and censorious Title IX regulations that have now been expanded to include gender and sexual orientation.

Another egregious example of Title IX run amuck involved Northwestern University professor emeritus of communication, Laura Kipnis. In a 2015 article she suggested, ironically, that there were too many Title IX investigations. As a result of her piece, she became the subject of a Title IX investigation. When, two years later, she wrote a book on her oppressive experiences at the hands of Northwestern’s Title IX bureaucracy, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, the university launched a second investigation of her, based on complaints from four Northwestern faculty members and six graduate students who were apparently offended by the very thought that someone would question the fairness and purpose of policies to control the sexual behavior of adults, even in consensual relationships.

“There is simply no conceivable way in which an essay discussing publicly available (and indeed, widely discussed) information could constitute a violation of Title IX,” wrote the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) in a 2015 comment about the Kipnis case. “The transmogrification of Title IX into an all-purpose excuse for knee-jerk overreactions to complaints about speech—sometimes only tangentially related to sex—is an unacceptable trend that endangers freedom of expression and undermines the purpose of higher education. That merely discussing issues related to sex or publicly available information could justify a two and a half month investigation in any administrator’s mind shows the extent to which the language and purpose of Title IX has been corrupted.”

In his publicly published resignation letter, Portland State University philosophy professor Peter Boghossian, another academic who became the target of a Title IX investigation as a result of a student complaint, warned that “[w]ith Title IX investigations there is no due process, so I didn’t have access to the particular accusations, the ability to confront my accuser, and I had no opportunity to defend myself.”

Why was this happening at his institution, mirroring what other victims of Title IX investigations have experienced? According to Boghossian, obsessive “wokeness” on campuses is responsible for creating a climate where dissenters who challenge current heterodoxies are censured, punished, and purged. “. . . [B]rick by brick,” he wrote in his letter, “the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.”

The original purpose of the 1972 Title IX regulations, of course, was well-meaning. They were designed to allow both sexes equal access to facilities and sports teams, and stated that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” including almost all institutions of higher education.

[Related: “Cornell, Due Process, and Liberal Education”]

Title IX enforcement expanded substantially with the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which put universities on notice that they had to be particularly vigilant in targeting all alleged gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct, thereby drawing Title IX administrators into the bedrooms and private lives of students and faculty.

The “Dear Colleague” letter did for sex and gender what diversity, inclusion, and equity bureaucrats did for leftist ideology on today’s campuses: create a hammer where everything looks like a nail. In other words, zealous Title IX enforcement became so broad and over-reaching as to become absurd and unfair, such that, as some Title IX policies demanded, students could be found to have created a hostile environment by uttering sexual innuendos, smacking their lips suggestively, or making flirtatious comments to members of the opposite sex—actions that, if random and not a pattern of ongoing behavior, are certainly not only protected speech but are par for the course for immature college students learning how to navigate sexual and emotional relationships. This all resulted in what Harvard law professors Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk termed “the sex bureaucracy.”

Unsurprisingly, until the Title IX guidelines were reworked during the Trump administration, hundreds of alleged sexual predators, almost exclusively men, were hauled into virtual star chambers, were denied legal representation, were unable to confront their accusers, and usually had their cases overseen by one university representative who acted as the sole decisionmaker and judge, and who decided the cases based on the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which in a he-said-she-said incident regularly defaulted to the female accuser.

No one would ever defend male students who were actual rapists, of course, but the 2006 Duke lacrosse team rape hoax, and a similar one in 2014 at the University of Virginia, suggest that it is easy for false testimony to result in punishment and expulsion of (usually) male students whose lives can be ruined by false or ambiguous accusations.

In fact, as a result of unfair, sometimes illegal Title IX-related decisions against accused students and faculty, since 2013 there have been 781 lawsuits filed on behalf of defendants who were wrongly accused, slandered, or deprived of their constitutional and legal rights through aggressive Title IX enforcement, including lawsuits against complainants and school officials who defamed the accused young men. Many of the lawsuits successfully exonerated the accused and found in their favor once the case was reviewed in a real court, not a university’s own star chamber where the accused’s rights were often vitiated or ignored.

Now that the new Title IX guidelines include gender, sexuality, and transgender rights, critics worry that the number of complaints and cases will increase exponentially, particularly on campuses already obsessed with protecting and tending to the emotions of various identity groups as part of academia’s grievance culture. In this culture, implicit bias, microaggressions, unintentional racism, and even dirty jokes can now be punished by diversocrat scolds and Title IX prudes clamoring to shield perceived victims from any form of bias, aggression, or hatred—even when it is invisible or merely imagined.

The Biden administration’s Title IX guidelines will still be subjected to months of comment and review, so there is hope that, given a possible Republican-controlled House and Senate after the mid-terms, they will be modified, especially since some of their provisions have already been flagged as unconstitutional. Academia is already wrestling with systemic problems more central to its primary role as the purveyor of knowledge and scholarship, and it will benefit no one to have battalions of “woke zealots” poking their noses into other people’s sex lives and gender identities, trying to sort out victim and victimizer in the name of supposed equity.

That’s not the university’s business, and it never will be.


Image: Alex Simpson, Public Domain

Richard L. Cravatts

Richard L. Cravatts, Professor of Practice at Simmons College and the author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University's Jihad Against Israel & Jews, is President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

2 thoughts on “The ‘Social Justice Factory’ and Biden’s Title IX Regulations

  1. One pernicious rule change is how intoxication is now equated with incapacitation.

    It’s not enough for a man to gain enthusiastic consent from his sexual partner. He must also be sure his partner hasn’t been drinking or consuming other drugs. Women have claimed that they couldn’t consent because they were drunk or otherwise cognitively impaired by substances they voluntarily consumed. They can be walking, talking, being proactive during sex, but that’s not enough should she say she doesn’t remember or was just exercising bad judgment.

    These policies have no parallel in civil or criminal codes but that hasn’t stopped the Title IX single investigators from determining rapes have happened because the woman had been drinking. Fire.org covered one notable case at Occidental College.

    https://www.thefire.org/esquire-details-egregious-failures-of-occidental-sexual-assault-case/

    This case also illustrated how the accused may not be able to sufficiently defend himself if there’s a risk of criminal charges. Any testimony in a Title IX investigation, which has no protections against bias, can be used against him by the state.

    A classic Catch-22.

  2. If I am not mistaken, the Higher Ed Act STILL hasn’t been reauthorized, just funded on a continuing basis.

    A MAGA Congress could just pull the plug. No more FinAid funds.

    The whole industry would collapse overnight. And there would be nothing that Biden could do…

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