In 2018, colleges continued to face public backlash and skepticism. There was a legal challenge to the consideration of race in Harvard University's admissions, a decline in international students, and the abrupt shutdown of a small private college in Newton. Kirk Carapezza is the Managing Editor of WGBH’s Higher Education Desk. Carapezza spoke with WGBH All Things Considered host Barbara Howard about this past year’s happenings in higher education. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: Well as we have been hearing, it has been an amazingly busy year on college campuses nationwide, and of course locally. One of the highlights was in November, when the Trump administration proposed new regulations on how colleges handle sexual misconduct claims. It was a pretty far-reaching plan. Talk about that.
Kirk Carapezza: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said her draft rules would add fair protections for the accused [in sexual misconduct claims]. If these rules are finalized, they'd prohibit the use of a single investigator to resolve complaints. Instead, colleges would be required to hold adversarial hearings, and they'd only investigate sexual misconduct alleged to have occurred on campus or other areas overseen by the school. Janet Haley teaches at Harvard Law School and she's pushed for the Education Department to change Obama-era guidelines on how colleges respond to these allegations.
Back in 2017, Haley and other Harvard law professors urged the department to rescind a "Dear Colleague" letter that instructed colleges how to handle sexual assault cases. Haley says students would be forced to show up to hearings with no notice of what the charges against them were. She welcomes the Trump administration's proposed changes, which she says gives greater protection to the accused. Haley told me that the fact the Trump administration is proposing fairness is one of the great paradoxes of our time.
Howard: Now, those were her words?
Carapezza: Those were her words.
Howard: And here's what else Haley said:
"Fairness is fairness — the use of a hearing so that both parties can hear the evidence in real-time. These are traditional advocacy points of the ACLU, of the left, of progressives."
Carapezza: Still, Haley says the Trump administration wants to adopt a definition of sexual harassment that is too narrow, that requires unwelcome conduct be severe and pervasive and objectively offensive.
Howard: Well that sounds like a pretty high bar. How do advocates for survivors see these changes?
Carapezza: They see them as a big step backwards. Wendy Murphy is a professor at New England Law Boston, and she agrees with Haley that the rules narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and require colleges act only if the alleged misconduct is severe and pervasive. But in the end, Murphy thinks they should be rejected. Here's what she said:
"What she's proposing is extremely dangerous and is going to present huge new risks to women on campus, because now campuses are going to be given this free reign, if you will, to do nothing."
Carapezza: Murphy fears a chilling effect and victims won't come forward.
Howard: Well of course we should point, out these are just draft regulations. But what's next in the process?
Carapezza: That's right. A 60-day comment period ends at the end of January, so the new rules won't be adopted until 2019 at the earliest. The Education Department says that means they wouldn't take effect on college campuses until 2020.
Howard: That’s Kirk Carapezza. He is the managing editor of our Higher Education desk. Our Higher Education reports are a collaboration with the Forum for the Future of Higher Education and made possible with support from Lumina Foundation and the Davis Educational Foundation. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.