Some college administrators are complaining they already have enough regulations about responding to sexual assault, but lawmakers like Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have no intention of abandoning plans for new federal rules on the issue.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee will hold its first hearing Wednesday on the Campus Accountability and Security Act, a bipartisan bill addressing college sexual assault.
The bill would designate new guidelines about whom a rape victim could speak to confidentially; require additional disclosure of how sexual misconduct is punished by schools; and would ramp up fines for colleges that violate Title IX, the federal gender equity law. Higher education groups have complained they already face a myriad of confusing rules regarding campus rape, but Murray said in an interview with The Huffington Post Tuesday that every industry complains it’s overregulated.
“Part of the national conversation is, ‘Don’t regulate us,’” Murray said.
Many universities have tried to make a show that they are acting to address sexual assault, Murray said, but they wouldn’t be doing so were there not a national conversation around it. She insisted Congress needs to impose better regulations for how schools handle sexual violence. If Congress does not, Murray said, “That’s a detriment to our country.”
“I think too often the current system encourages underreporting,” Murray said. “Across our country right now, on some campuses there are some basic human rights being violated.”
Colleges have made their concerns known, most recently in an op-ed in The Washington Post from the head of a student affairs group, and in a May 15 letter from the American Council on Education to Murray and Senate HELP committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
“Campus officials already struggle to decipher and reconcile their responsibilities under different federal and state laws as well as the significant volume of federal regulation and guidance related to sexual assault,” ACE wrote. “Campuses are eager to comply fully with all legal requirements, but there are seldom bright-line rules. After exercising their best and reasoned judgment to reconcile competing obligations, institutions often find themselves second-guessed by the Department of Education.”
Alexander has promised to act on a report released in February detailing how regulations increased costs for universities. The report was produced by a task force co-chaired by Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos and University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan. But the Hechinger Report found earlier this month the costs were largely related to rules with research grants, and a large portion was reimbursed by the government the government.
Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP committee, declined to predict what may be the most contentious components of the bill. The Senate education committee is moving on to its regular reauthorization of the nation’s higher ed laws, having completed a rewrite of the nation’s main law governing K-12 schools.
Like the earlier effort to reform how sexual assaults are handled in the military, the college rape legislation has largely been bipartisan. The bill has 32 co-sponsors, including 20 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Murray is not a co-sponsor.
“We are dealing with this in the military; I’ve had parents say to me, ‘I don’t want my son or daughter going into the military because of the issue with sexual assault,’” Murray said. “I don’t want that to be a barrier into the military. I don’t want that to be a barrier to anyone going to college.”