Under the Trump administration, the Department of Education may soon abandon its practice of releasing a list of universities under investigation for Title IX violations. Secretary DeVos leans toward ending the practice, seemingly in alignment with conservative criticism of Title IX’s regulatory overreach.
Such a choice would hinder the lives of students by removing much of the incentive for university-wide reform and would represent a reversal of significant progress made under the Obama administration.
In 2014, the Obama administration first released a list of 55 schools under investigation for mishandling sexual assault or harassment claims in order to hold schools publicly accountable for failures to adhere to Title IX — an additional buttress to the funding consequences for violating the act.
Essentially a public shaming tactic, this move accompanied a larger effort by the administration to reduce sexual assault in universities. Overall this endeavor proved widely successful, as reporting rates rose and conversations about the college rape epidemic became widespread.
Two days before Trump took office, the Department of Education released an updated list containing 223 universities under investigation for more than 300 cases of Title IX infringement. The list details all universities with active Title IX violation complaints against them.
The production and release of this list is an important part of our system for handling sexual assault. Federal laws have long acknowledged the benefit of transparency when dealing with the pivotal issue of sexual assault on campus, with motions like the Clery Act instituting deliberate openness. Understanding the potential risk of assault is important when choosing a school, and parents and students alike benefit from knowing whether a school is under investigation for Title IX violations.
Schools like UT have set the precedent in recent years for transparency with sexual assault, with studies like this year’s CLASE study revealing brutal and honest statistics about the rate of assault on campus. The revelation that 15 percent of female undergraduates experienced sexual assault shocked the UT community, but the school’s candor contradicts a national trend towards secrecy.
The University of Texas at Austin is not on either of the lists released so far by the Department of Education. Two of the schools in the UT system are; UT Health Science Center and UT Pan American (now a part of UT Rio Grande Valley) both appear in the second list.
As much as being publicly under investigation brings scrutiny, it is equally important for students to know that their school — like UT Austin— is not under investigation.
If the Trump administration chooses to abandon the practice of releasing this list, it would do so with the knowledge that this shift signifies once more the Department’s lack of commitment to survivors or potential victims. Not only does the knowledge of which schools are under investigation holds institutions accountable, it also increases accountability for the department overseeing them. With the Department of Education seemingly ambivalent toward the epidemic of rape on campuses, public accountability has become more important than ever.
Anderson is a Plan II and history sophomore from Houston.