Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Monday rejected the University of Wisconsin (UW) System’s proposal to modify state law to conform with new federal rule issued by the Education Department about how schools should handle sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations.
The Title IX rule, announced by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in early May, focuses on guaranteeing those accused of sexual misconduct with due process protections such as presumption of innocence, live hearings, and cross-examination with the accusers. It also adopted a stricter definition of sexual harassment as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In order to implement the federal rule before the fall semester begins, the UW System has to go through Wisconsin’s emergency rule-making process, beginning with submitting a proposal to the governor, who disapproved the proposed changes.
In a letter (pdf) sent to UW System president Ray Cross, the Democratic governor wrote that he had rejected the proposal because they might “weaken the definition of sexual harassment” and “make the process more difficult for survivors.”
“Education and civil rights leaders across the nation have voiced strong concerns about the new federal regulations and the chilling effect they will have on survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Evers said in the letter.
Evers also argued that offering procedural protections to the accused would have a financial impact on Wisconsin’s public universities.
“Restricted access to the Title IX complaint process will inevitably result in significant costs, not only to survivors’ physical and emotional well-being, but also the resulting need for increased mental health care services,” Evers wrote.
His remarks come as Wisconsin joined 17 other states and Washington in a lawsuit challenging DeVos’s Title IX rule. The lawsuit filed on June 4 by Democratic attorneys general claims that the new federal rule “creates arbitrary and unlawful procedural requirements” that will “chill reporting of sexual harassment and make it harder for schools to reach fair outcomes.”
Despite years of criticism, DeVos said that the department overhauled Title IX rule to restore fairness and transparency in sexual misconduct cases on school campuses.
“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in a statement in early May when she announced the changes. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”