Congressional Republicans look to rein in Obama's actions on college sexual assault

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Republican leaders in Congress are looking to the incoming Trump administration to rein in a federal agency they say has gone “unchecked” for the last eight years.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who chairs the Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee, told the College Fix that he wants the next education secretary to appoint someone at the agency’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) who will “stop the practice of using the office as an unchecked regulatory entity.”

Likewise, the new chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., hopes “to see the [entire] department scaled back.”

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Republican furor about the Department of Education stems from 2011 when the department began pressing colleges to more aggressively police sexual assaults and threatening to take away Title IX funding from schools that failed to do so. Title IX is a law enacted in 1972 that prohibits any educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance from denying benefits to or discriminating against someone based on their sex.

“Some of the most egregious examples of executive overreach and intimidation” took place at the department, “and I believe it was this type of overreach that the American people repudiated in this election,” Lankford told the College Fix.

Officials at the Education Department “have abused ‘Dear Colleague’ letters and ‘guidance documents’ to mandate policies for schools without adhering to legally required regulatory processes,” he said.

Lankford is referring to letters sent by the OCR to schools in April 2011 that made sexual assault a form of harassment prohibited by Title IX. The department currently has some 216 schools under investigation, while other schools have expelled accused students on what critics say is scant evidence, often with no legal recourse or due process.

Since the Obama administration’s crackdown on schools, a number of students who have been found guilty by their colleges of sexual assault have filed lawsuits alleging their due process rights were violated during the investigation and ruling of the cases.

“What we represent is not a popular issue, we know that,” Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, which supports due process rights for accused students, told back in November. “But there are so many young men whose lives have been destroyed by these allegations.”

While Lankford, Foxx and other congressional Republicans are confident that Trump and his pick for education secretary, Michigan businesswoman and education activist Betsy DeVos, will quickly reverse course when it comes to Title IX, neither of the two have spoken at length on the issue.

Campus Sexual Assaults

  • 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students).
  • Among graduate and professional students, 8.8% of females and 2.2% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
  • Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
  • 4.2% of students have experienced stalking since entering college.

*Information from

During the presidential campaign, Trump’s biggest qualm with the Department of Education – as with many other federal agencies – was to say that it “is massive and it can be largely eliminated.” DeVos has also not broached the issue of sexual assault on college campuses or commented on the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX.

Groups representing victims of campus sexual assaults say that nobody would benefit from a rollback of OCR policies because schools would be held even less accountable for their investigations into sex assault accusations.

“I get where they are coming from,” Anna Voremberg, the managing director of End Rape On Campus, told “But we’re on the same side.”

Voremberg added: “The only way to get a true ruling is to have a fair and equitable process for both parties … a dialing back of Title IX would not do that.”