From the National Catholic Register
WASHINGTON — The federal government’s broadening interpretations of Title IX, the 1972 anti-sexual-discrimination statute that applies to educational institutions, has raised concerns that the freedom of Catholic colleges and universities to teach and govern themselves according to the Church’s teachings on sexuality is at risk.
At least five Catholic educational institutions are among a wave of Christian colleges and universities that have applied for Title IX exemptions, in the wake of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ expansion of Title IX’s interpretation to include “discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.” These Catholic colleges and universities have argued that the new rule interferes with their ability to govern themselves in full accord with Catholic teaching.
There are also academic freedom concerns related to Catholic identity: At Marquette University, professors have complained that the aggressive implementation of Title IX’s expansive interpretations, combined with vague definitions of what constitutes a “hostile environment,” are suppressing their academic freedom to teach Catholic theology in the classroom and promote Marquette’s Catholic identity on campus.
According to the meeting minutes of Concerned Catholics at Marquette University that were provided to the Register, a number of faculty expressed concern that the new Title IX mandates being implemented at the Catholic institution “necessarily restrict the free exchange of ideas, particularly in theology and philosophy — the very core of Catholic, Jesuit education.”
The concerns were not limited to professors alone. One professor said some students shared they did not feel comfortable sharing Church teaching in that environment.
“This is the opposite of university education,” one professor at Marquette University, who declined to be identified for this article, told the Register. The professor said the university’s Title IX compliance on issues of gender and sexuality is dampening classroom discussion of Church teaching in these areas and throwing another wrench in ongoing efforts to strengthen the university’s Catholic identity and mission.
A number of colleagues, the professor added, related that the recent Title IX training and campus environment made it “very intimidating” to speak about Catholic doctrine on sexuality in their classrooms, because that might be perceived by a student as a “hostile environment” and thus worthy of a Title IX complaint. At least one theology faculty member teaching about Genesis in his classroom received a complaint, after a student who had two fathers objected to the classroom presentation of the Church’s teaching of marriage.
[emphasis added - ed.] “Don’t people come to universities so they can grow up? If they’re going into safe houses, how can they grow up if they can’t even deal with someone who disagrees?” the professor said.
The Register reached out to Marquette for an explanation of its Title IX policies and enforcement practices. A Marquette representative pointed to the university’s Title IX policies posted on its website, but declined to comment further.
The fact that the professor quoted in this piece refused to be identified is significant. Given the climate of intolerance on the Marquette campus, it would be foolish to invite the enmity of the politically correct crowd.
An Issue at Secular Schools
If this seems like a parochial “Catholic” issue, it’s not. The article goes on:
But academic voices on secular campuses, including feminist professors, have expressed concern that Title IX is being used to silence unpopular opinions instead of dealing with serious complaints of sexual assault or harassment. One famous case involves Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern University professor and feminist, who was accused of creating a hostile environment against reporting sexual assault over an article she wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” in which she criticized campus sexual conduct codes that “infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives.”
Kipnis was eventually cleared in 2015, but by that time her case became a cause celebre of Title IX excesses and due process failures.
At Harvard University, 28 faculty of the law school wrote a public letter in October 2014, saying that Harvard was going far beyond what Title IX actually required, trampling over the due-process rights of the accused and adopting overbroad definitions of sexual harassment that threatened academic freedom and faculty governance.
Janet Halley, the Royall Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, told the Register that the improper application of Title IX does pose a threat to academic freedom on campuses and that “these problems are emerging all over the country.”
“There is plenty of evidence that Title IX is being expanded in application, way beyond its proper legal scope,” she said.
Halley explained this has happened in several steps. First, the OCR issued “non-binding advice documents” that do not have the status of legal regulation, but “massively expand the Supreme Court’s definition of sexual harassment.”
“This creates a lot of confusion about what sexual harassment actually is,” she said.
Second, she said the OCR has threatened loss of funds if colleges do not integrate “those expansive and confusing definitions into their campus policies and apply them in cases.” As a result, college and university administers are “scared out of their minds,” Halley added, and in an effort to protect their institutions’ funding “are over-complying, even with those expansive definitions.”
“Finally, the people doing adjudications, handling those cases on the ground, are not stopping cases that are manifestly ungrounded,” she said. “I am hearing about too many people who are being put through the process, on the basis of complaints that should simply lead to a conversation with the complaining students that these facts, even if true, do not violate our policy, and sometimes the process is truncated with massive due-process violations.”
We were the victim of one such case, when a prissy little feminist in our introductory American Government class was unhappy that we told the class that feminists grossly exaggerate the prevalence of campus date rape. She charged us with sexual harassment
Marquette eventually decided we had a right to say that, but only after we were required to explain what we had said to Barry McCormick, Chair of Political Science. Of course, the process is the punishment.
Another Harvard Law Professor, Jeannie Suk, discussed the consequences when several Harvard Law professors publicly objected to a CNN documentary titled “The Hunting Ground,” which levied false rape charges against a Harvard Law student. The school thoroughly investigated the charges and found them to be bogus. The result
. . . last week the filmmakers did more than understandably disagree with criticism of the film, which has been short-listed for the Academy Award for best documentary. They wrote, in a statement to the Harvard Crimson, that “the very public bias these professors have shown in favor of an assailant contributes to a hostile climate at Harvard Law.” The words “hostile climate” contain a serious claim. At Harvard, sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including verbal conduct that is “sufficiently persistent, pervasive, or severe” so as to create a “hostile environment.” If, as the filmmakers suggest, the professors’ statement about the film has created a hostile environment at the school, then, under Title IX, the professors should be investigated and potentially disciplined.
To my knowledge, no complaint of sexual harassment has been filed with Harvard’s Title IX office—though I’ve been told by a high-level administrator that several people have inquired about the possibility—and I don’t know if the school would proceed with an investigation. . . . A handful of students have said that they feel unsafe at Harvard because of the professors’ statement about the film. If a Title IX complaint were filed and an investigation launched, the professors wouldn’t be permitted to speak about it, as that could be considered “retaliation” against those who filed the complaint, which would violate the campus sexual-harassment policy.
In short, leftist students have used Title IX to try to shut down speech they don’t like. Not merely do legitimate statements made in class result in “investigations,” but public statements that students don’t even have to read result in charges.
Even though the charges are usually found to be baseless, the chilling effect is huge. Who wants to be dragged before a department chair, dean or human resources official and required to explain oneself?
No Protection for Conservative Students
Of course, civil rights law protects males as well as females, whites as well as blacks, and conservative Christians as well as gays and lesbians.
But somehow, we never hear of complaints by whites who are insulted and bullied by talk of “white privilege,” complaints from men who face anti-male sexism from feminist professors, or conservative Catholics and other Christians who have their beliefs insulted by secular professors.
Partly, this is because the politically incorrect groups know perfectly well that the campus grievance bureaucracy is set up to protect the tender sensibilities of “victim groups.” But partly it is that they are not culturally inclined to weaponize their sense of “offense.” But we think they should. Only when the campus left faces the consequences of the system they have set up and exploited will there be effective pressure to back off, and protect speech.