Recent debate has been making its way through the halls of our state capitol surrounding the need to address Title IX reform. Unfortunately, some of this reaction may have been spurred by very personal situations relating to powerful lobbyists or donors. Instead of rushing to a major policy change in the state on how to deal with a federal issue, I would suggest lawmakers wait for President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos make necessary reforms, not Sen. Gary Romine, one of the bill sponsors.
Title IX has developed a notorious reputation because of the Obama-era rules applied to cases of sexual assault. There have been horror stories of male students getting expelled and losing their futures because overzealous administrators botched an investigation. In effect, students face the loss of due process because of regulations that the Obama Administration tried to force down on our colleges and universities. To be clear, Title IX determines whether a student should receive a degree or whether a student should be allowed to stay on campus in some form or fashion. Moving that process to state bureaucracy as the bill sponsors suggest, takes it out of the hands of our private colleges and universities.
In light of the need to reform Title IX, the Missouri legislature has been considering SB 259 and HCS 573, which would seriously alter the way cases are handled in all universities, public and private, across the state. One of the biggest changes would be to create a new bureaucratic arm of government, the Administrative Hearing Panel, which would look into such allegations of sexual assault. The legislation would mandate the hiring of more bureaucrats and give them carte blanche to tell colleges and universities – even private institutions – what to do and how to proceed. The state’s solution to a government problem is to throw more government at it, that’s never a good idea.
As a graduate from the College of the Ozarks, a private Christian university, I can see how this legislation is a problem. The College of the Ozarks has its own measures for responding to Title IX. They seek a unique, Christian approach on that campus grounded in biblical principles to solve problems. However, SB 259 and HCS 573 would override their faith and force taxpayer funded bureaucrats to storm the campus and take over. This isn’t the type of religious liberties lawmakers know need to be upheld. The cost of new employees, data collection and other processes will be passed along to students. Believe it or not, the bill even requires college employees involved in the process to disclose their sexual past and other private information, including who they voted for in the last presidential election.
Another reason to encourage caution is a lack of compliance with Title IX could lead schools to lose federal funding or programs like federal Pell Grants, which provides significant assistant to children of working Missouri families wanting to obtain a college degree.
Let me be clear: I think Title IX is in serious need of reinterpretation, our students deserve better. However, the state legislature is going about it all the wrong way. The proper pathway to reform Title IX is where the problem first started—at the federal level. The issues we see began with the “Dear Colleague” letter sent out by the Obama Administration, advising colleges and universities how his administration wanted these cases handled. Already, President Trump has taken a stand against the radical actions that put our students in this mess to begin with. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has rescinded the “Dear Colleague” letter and is further reforming Title IX so that all students are protected.
President Trump and his administration are in the best position to reform Title IX. As the Chief Executive, he is able to decide how the rules will be enforced, and he has decided that Title IX must be adjusted. If legislation is passed ahead of those reforms, we may end up with confusion at best and at worst, bureaucratic entanglement that is more aggressive than new federal rules. Seeing how these changes are already being made, further action by Missouri lawmakers would be both redundant and harmful to students and universities, particularly to faith-based institutions that have their own standards for handling such cases.
The legislature should set SB 259 and HCS 573 aside and trust President Trump to make the reforms he has promised instead of wasting more taxpayer money and expanding government.
Former State Representative and College of the Ozarks Alum