The Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) have been facing increasing criticism since Arizona Senator John McCain wrote to the DOJ last week demanding answers regarding its May 9 “blueprint” for university sexual harassment policies. Yesterday, the Missoulian’s Martin Kidston reviewed Senator McCain’s letter, which echoes FIRE’s concerns about the blueprint. In Kidston’s article, FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn explains a major problem with the blueprint: “The most sensitive person offended on any side of the political spectrum can claim sex harassment and it has to be treated as such,” Cohn said. “The DOJ went overboard by divorcing it from the reasonable person standard. They missed the mark, constitutionally speaking, and they missed it by a mile.” As Torch readers will remember, the ED and DOJ wrote the blueprint after an investigation into the University of Montana’s handling of sexual assault cases. Joe notes that while “the facts described in the DOJ’s letter of finding were alarming,” UMT’s problems in dealing with sexual assault cases could have and should have been addressed without expanding UMT’s definition of sexual harassment: Cohn believes the issues uncovered at UM didn’t arise from poor definition of sexual harassment and sexual assault policies. Rather, he said, problems stemmed from a lack of enforcement of existing policies.“The solution was not to redefine things unconstitutionally and eliminate due process,” he said. Two deadlines are fast approaching. The resolution agreement (PDF) among the ED, DOJ, and UMT states, “It is the intent of the parties that the revised policies ... be adopted no later than July 15, 2013.” And Senator McCain has asked the DOJ to respond to his questions about the blueprint by July 17. Joe and FIRE will be watching closely: “It’s important that folks on the Hill recognize how crucial this issue is,” said Cohn. “McCain is asking questions that deserve serious answers from the DOJ. We hope they take this opportunity to reevaluate the directives that are found in the agreement with UM, and reevaluate their wisdom and their legality.” Read the rest of Kidston’s article in the Missoulian. Want to know more about the ED/DOJ "blueprint"? Check out FIRE's Frequently Asked Questions here!
FIRE filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to hear a case concerning whether a public university can restrict access to a public sidewalk on its campus.