August 21, 2020
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
In response to the U.S. Department of Education’s Final Rule under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was issued on May 19, 2020, and carries the force and effect of law as of August 14, 2020, Seattle University has implemented a new policy, the Policy for Complying with the Title IX Regulations-Title IX Final Rule.
Overview of Title IX Final Rule and New Policy
In recent years, “Title IX” cases have become a shorthand for any campus disciplinary process involving sex discrimination, including those arising from sexual harassment and sexual assault. However, the Title IX Final Rule has narrowed the definition of “sexual harassment” (including forms of sex-based violence) that falls under Title IX, and has limited the types of complaints on which universities have the authority to act under Title IX, based on, among other factors, geographic scope.
For conduct that does not meet the new Title IX definition of sexual harassment or the new jurisdictional requirements, the Title IX Final Rule mandates that universities dismiss the complaint for purposes of Title IX. At that point universities are not required, under the law, to respond; however, they can choose to respond utilizing other university procedures.
Seattle University is committed to providing a safe and equitable learning, living, and working environment, and has clearly defined policies prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by students as well as faculty and staff. The university takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously, and remains firmly committed to addressing any violations of its policies, including those not falling within the Title IX Final Rule. To the extent alleged misconduct falls outside of Title IX, Seattle University will continue to apply other applicable university policies.
Additionally, Seattle University is committed to providing information, resources, and support to campus community members who have experienced or been impacted by any form of sexual misconduct, regardless of where or when it occurs, or by whom. The university continues to provide emergency, medical, and other support resources, as well as assistance with safety and supportive measures, including academic and work accommodations, to community members, whether or not formal complaints are pursued.
Along with narrowing what conduct falls under Title IX, the Title IX Final Rule prescribes how universities must respond to reports of misconduct that meet the new requirements, and mandates a grievance process that universities must follow to comply with the law in these specific covered cases, before issuing a disciplinary sanction against a person accused of sexual harassment. This includes a mandated adjudication process that includes a live hearing with oral cross-examination. The Title IX Final Rule also clarifies that its requirements are applicable to complaints involving students as well as employees.
Our new Policy for Complying with the Title IX Regulations-Title IX Final Rule outlines, among other things, how Seattle University will determine if a complaint falls under Title IX, and the process the university will follow when it does, consistent with the law. Only incidents falling within the Title IX Final Rule’s definition of sexual harassment and jurisdictional requirements will be investigated and (as appropriate) brought to a live hearing through the Policy for Complying with the Title IX Regulations/Title IX Final Rule.
The Title IX Final Rule, which is over 2,000 pages long, was issued on May 19, 2020, with an effective date of August 14, 2020. This limited three-month window for implementation overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic and elapsed over the summer when many community members were no longer on campus. As such, while development of the new policy still involved multiple departments on campus and included communication with Academic Assembly, Staff Council, and student government leaders, the process did not afford the university time for the level of engagement with faculty, staff, and students that such significant issues on campus would normally command.
Another challenge, which continues at this time, is that multiple lawsuits with the potential to impact the application and requirements of the Title IX Final Rule have been filed. While courts reviewing these lawsuits have not yet delayed or modified the rule, additional hearings are scheduled in the months ahead. The outcome of the upcoming presidential election may impact the Title IX Final Rule as well.
Going forward, the university will continue to monitor the lawsuits and other potential rule changes, updating and engaging the campus community. In the meantime, additional information about the new policy, as well as other sexual misconduct policies and procedures, can be found on the Office of Institutional Equity’s web page, where we will be adding further helpful information in the coming days and weeks.
Andrea Herrera Katahira
Assistant Vice President for Institutional Equity
Title IX Coordinator