Students’ Open Letter Calls on Senate to End Dept of Education Overreach

Students around the country have signed an open letter calling on the U.S. Senate not to increase the budget of an Education Department Office that has been at the forefront of efforts to promote censorship, speech codes, and the whittling down of due process for students accused of sexual harassment.

The Senate is currently deliberating on whether or not to allocate additional funding to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). This is an office that has pressured colleges to adopt a range of disastrous policies, from stifling campus speech codes to poorly-disguised racial quotas in disciplinary policies.

Most notoriously, the OCR is responsible for the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, which threatened universities with the loss of federal funding if they did not accept responsibility for sexual assault on their campuses. This letter played a major role in the factually baseless panic over sexual abuse on campus, which led to students effectively losing their due process rights when accused of sexual assault or harassment.

The panic, which gripped the attention of the media for over a year, culminated in the journalistic scandal of the decade, when Rolling Stone published a story claiming that members of a fraternity at the University of Virginia had gang-raped a female student. The story fell apart, leading to Rolling Stone retracting the article and currently facing a $25 million dollar lawsuit.

Apparently oblivious to these well-documented debacles, the OCR are now asking the Senate for $135 million, which would constitute an almost 30 percent increase in their annual budget.

Jake Goldberg, a freshman at Tufts University, has had enough. He’s penned an open letter to senators calling on them to deny the OCR’s request for additional funding. The letter, copied below, has already been signed by over 150 students.

Goldberg invites students interested in signing the letter to email him at jaketg19@gmail.com.

Jake Goldberg & Fellow Students
Prepared for the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies
Department of Education

Dear Chairman Cochran, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, Chairman Blunt, and Ranking Member Murray:

I am writing on behalf of myself and my fellow students, whose names are listed below as a pledge of support, to express our strong disapproval for Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues’ request for $137.7 million in FY 2017 for the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR). We believe that no further funding should be provided to this department until OCR revises its illegal and immoral guidance to our colleges and universities.

Through its 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter (DCL), OCR has severely threatened students’ rights to free speech and due process on our college campuses. The DCL fails to explicitly differentiate offensive speech from sexually harassing conduct. This was not always the case with OCR guidelines. In OCR’s 2001 Guidance, acceptance of the Supreme Court’s Davis v. Monroe delineation between free speech and sexual harassment was unequivocally stated. In 2003, OCR’s DCL once again clearly substantiated the separation between offensive expression and sexual harassment. However, these protections were lost with the issuance of the 2011 DCL, which lacked any substantial speech protective directives. This lack of safeguarding free speech enabled OCR’s 2013 Findings Letter with the University of Montana to further jeopardize our rights. This document created a broad definition of sexual harassment by defining it as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that does not have to be objectively offensive. Though expressed as non-binding, this definition has still been widely adopted by our campuses all across the country. By allowing vague and far-reaching restrictions on speech to be incorporated into sexual harassment policies, DCL’s directives have led to the deprivation of our constitutional and contractual rights to free speech and expression.

Equally as important is the fact that the mandates set forth in the 2011 DCL have forced our schools to enact policies which effectively deny us of our due process rights when we are accused of violating sexual harassment policies and face disciplinary proceedings. By mandating a preponderance of the evidence standard for vague and far-reaching sexual harassment codes, DCL promotes a standard of evidence that is inconsistent with the severity of alleged conduct. Colleges and universities have responded to the mandates of OCR by establishing biased procedures with no regard to due process protections or a presumption of innocence. There is no reason that sexual harassment cannot be adequately addressed and simultaneously provide all students involved with fair and balanced procedures.

We will never support codes that promote disciplinary proceedings with high risks of error, as such flawed proceedings serve the interests of neither party involved. We will never support overly broad definitions of threatening conduct, as such policies undermine those who truly suffer from deplorable acts of sexual misconduct, and result in innocent people being accused of serious violations. OCR’s guidance does not offer more security for those who genuinely need it. Its guidance allows for the punishing of those of us who hold thoughts and beliefs which others simply don’t wish to hear. Its guidance promotes biased, unfair procedures through illegal mandates that our schools are forced to adhere to. OCR’s guidance does nothing to protect our civil liberties; it destroys them.

Let us be clear. Today our voices number in the hundreds, next month they will be in the thousands, and within a year we will number over a million. We will not go away; we will no longer be silent; we will always be monitoring OCR’s actions. We as students will no longer tolerate unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats usurping our rights to free speech and due process. We will not stop speaking out until our requests become our realities. Our generation has ideals and views that should rise to the stars, yet OCR’s actions leave us suffocating in the strict stripes of their red tape. For these reasons, we ask that you withhold funding for the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education until they change their guidelines to conform with constitutionally established principles of free speech and due process. We appreciate your consideration of this request.

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