By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers blocked University of Wisconsin System officials on Monday from taking the first steps toward complying with new federal rules that bolster the rights of sexual-misconduct defendants and narrow the range of cases colleges are required to investigate.
Evers wrote in a letter to UW System President Ray Cross that he was rejecting the system’s outline for a rule complying with changes the Trump administration made last month to Title IX regulations. Evers said the outline doesn’t clearly state whether the system will weaken or strengthen the definition of sexual harassment. The outline also doesn’t recognize the economic effects of providing more mental-health services to victims frozen out of the complaint process, the governor said.
“Education and civil rights leaders across the nation have voiced strong concerns about the new federal regulations and the chilling effect they will have on survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Evers wrote.
UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch had no immediate comment.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued new rules last month tweaking Title IX, a 1972 law barring discrimination according to sex in education. The changes narrow the definition of sexual harassment and require colleges to investigate claims only if the misconduct is so severe and offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to education.
Obama administration guidelines, by contrast, defined sexual harassment as an unwelcome sexual advance. The final policy was quickly condemned by opponents who say it weakens protections for victims and will discourage many from reporting misconduct.
DeVos’ revisions also state schools can be held accountable for mishandling complaints only if they acted with deliberate indifference and allow student to question one another through representatives during live hearings.
The changes take effect Aug. 14. Evers earlier this month authorized Attorney General Josh Kaul to join a 17-state lawsuit alleging DeVos’ changes undercut Title IX’s mandate to eradicate sexual discrimination in federally funded education programs.
UW System President Ray Cross submitted a scope statement to Evers on May 21 regardless, noting in the statement that refusing to comply could lead to federal enforcement action and lawsuits.