US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been in the firing line as the media interpret her words to defend both sides in discrimination cases as code for wanting to roll back Title IX. Title IX was introduced in 1972 prohibiting sex discrimination in all education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. The law itself does not mention sexual violence, but its interpretation by the courts puts the onus on schools to make sure they address it should such claims be filed. Let’s get this straight from the beginning, sexual violence in any form is inexcusable. According to the Office for Civil Rights (which is part of the Dept of Education) in the last decade, sexual violence claims in tertiary educational institutions have soared 2000%. Seems an extraordinary growth rate. In absolute numbers sexual violence on US campuses numbered 177 reported cases in 2016. In 2016 there were 20.4mn students in colleges in the US or 8.7 sexual assaults per 1,000,000 students or 0.00087%.
In FY 2016, sex discrimination claims comprised 46% (7,747) of all complaints received in the year, as compared to 28% (2,939) in FY 2015. The majority of Title IX complaints received in 2016 (6,251) were led by a single complainant alleging discrimination in schools’ athletics programs. Complaints involving discrimination based on disability status comprised 36% (5,936) of all complaints this year; race or national origin discrimination complaints comprised 15% (2,439). Age based discrimination was 3% (581).
In Fig 7 above OCR’s staffing level has consistently declined over the life of the agency even though complaint volume has significantly increased. OCR’s staffing level at the end of FY 2016 was 563 (FTE), marginally above the all-time low in staff levels since 1980, when the Department of Education separated from what had until then been the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The number of staff in OCR today is almost 12% below its staffing level 10 years ago (640); about 29% below its staffing level 20 years ago (788); and more than 50% below its staffing level 34 years ago (1,148).
In FY 2013, OCR received 9,950 complaints and resolved 10,128 total cases. In FY 2016, OCR received 16,720 complaints and resolved 8,625 cases. Estimates are than FY 1985, OCR received just 2,199 complaints—nearly 87% fewer than what OCR now receives in a typical year. Even examining the last several years, from FY 2011 to FY 2016, annual complaint receipts increased by more than 113% and 188% since FY2006.
While not condoning any form of discrimination (whether sex, race, gender or any other form) does it not strike one as rather odd that the figures have jumped so high in such a short period? Most of these laws are over 40 years old. Has racism or sex discrimination all of a sudden jumped from the woodwork?
The 2016 OCR paper states clearly, “Finally, with this year’s annual report, we mark the end of eight productive years in the Obama Administration of securing equal educational opportunity for students. While numbers alone can never tell the full story, the 76,000 complaints we handled, the 66,000 cases we resolved, the more than 5,400 resolution agreements we reached, and the 34 policy guidance documents we issued between 2009 and 2016 speak volumes about ongoing student need and this agency’s service to our school communities.”
This statement almost reads as a failure. Surely the mark of a successful OCR would be to see a reduction in the number of claims. It almost reads as if the OCR wants a higher number of claims to justify its importance. Is it really rational to think that students became 113% more harrassed than 5 years prior? Considering that 80% of sex discrimination claims were made with respect to equal opportunities in athletics, most sports are split by gender – track & field, soccer, American football, boxing etc. Note these 6251 claims weren’t about sexual assault but sex discrimination. Was this possibly an issue of transgender students complaining that they weren’t allowed to play sport for teams that now reflect their gender identity?
If one reads the media one could be forgiven for thinking that most of the Title IX issues were sexual assault related. They are not. As DeVos made clear, processes at colleges in dealing with sexual violence are often inadequate and there needs to a commitment to ensuring the evidence backs the claims. Do people really have a problem with being innocent before proven guilty?
Let us be clear. The defence of civil rights is just. However the global shift towards public grievance and identity politics is borne out by these statistics. Obama allocated an extra $131 million in 2016 to the OCR to help hire another 210 workers. They’ve hired 19 so far. We live in a world where Google is censoring what it sees as ‘inappropriate’. We have UC Berkeley deciding to enforce a 50% limit to attendance to a lecture by Ben Shapiro. What we are looking at here should concern people. Safe spaces, trigger warnings and micro aggressions are all terms that have spawned in recent years. Is it any wonder that claims to offices like the OCR are skyrocketing. Why get ahead through hard work, diligence and exceptional ethics when you can get to the front of the line by complaining you were hard done by. Too easy!