'Blueprint' Agreement Binding Only at Montana, OCR Says
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Much of the controversy surrounding the University of Montana's settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has centered on whether OCR believed Montana's new policies, which required sexual harassment response and prevention measures that some said are unconstitutional, should be applied everywhere. Although such agreements are generally looked to as guidance for what OCR expects from institutions, it is also known that they are legally binding only to the campus in question. But OCR called Montana's resolution "a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country," which critics including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said meant that OCR planned to apply the new Montana standard to all campuses, potentially infringing upon the due process and free speech rights of students everywhere. But OCR's assistant secretary for civil rights, Catherine E. Lhamon, settled the question in a letter to FIRE last week. "The Agreement in the Montana case represents the resolution of that particular case and not OCR or DOJ policy," the letter reads.