The American Association of University Professors on Thursday told the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights that its recent crackdown on policies and procedures in cases of sexual harassment has the potential to threaten academic freedom. In April, the OCR sent an advisory letter to colleges and universities reiterating their responsibilities to address sexual assault under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. Given the aim of the ramped-up enforcement, organizations such as Security on Campus have praised the letter.
But the AAUP is now among groups, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, that worry that the office is overreaching. In a letter to the federal office, AAUP President Cary Nelson and Ann E. Green, chair of the AAUP Committee on Women in the Academic Profession, took issue with the OCR telling colleges to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard -- which requires them only to show that it is more likely than not that an assault occurred -- and suggested that they use the tougher "clear and convincing" standard of evidence because requiring more proof lessens the likelihood that professors be unfairly disciplined or sanctioned. (The OCR has noted that many colleges do use the latter, illegally.) The AAUP also cautioned against rushed judgment of faculty who teach courses touching on sexually sensitive topics. “‘Dear Colleague’ should encourage discussion of topics like sexual harassment both in and outside of the curriculum, but acknowledge that what might be offensive or uncomfortable to some students may also be necessary for their education,” Nelson and Green wrote.