New Title IX policy includes cross-examination during hearing, required by federal regulations

The policy includes more legalistic procedures than MIT’s pre-existing policy

MIT has released a new Title IX Sexual Harassment policy in response to new regulations from the Department of Education (ED), effective Aug. 14. 

The new procedure, in compliance with federal regulations, requires that formal Title IX complaints be addressed in a live hearing, chaired by outside legal professionals and including cross-examinations of the complainant, respondent, and witnesses. Statements of parties or witnesses who do not submit to cross-examination may not be relied on by the hearing panel.

Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, and Provost Martin Schmidt ’88 wrote in an email to the MIT community that the new policy is in line with the ED’s “more narrow definition of sexual harassment.” Behaviors in violation of MIT’s sexual harassment policy that do not fit into the ED’s definition will continue to be addressed through MIT’s pre-existing procedures. 

Allen, Barnhart, and Schmidt also wrote that legal professionals will “make evidentiary rulings during cross-examination” and help write a “detailed determination letter required by the regulations.” 

MIT’s pre-existing procedures for hearings do not include live cross-examination and are chaired by members of the Committee on Discipline’s sexual misconduct subcommittee, without the involvement of outside professionals.

Jackie Valeri G, chair of the messaging and partnerships branch of the Title IX Student Advisory Committee (TIXSAC), said in an interview with The Tech that the old system will be kept so that “not all cases at MIT go through this stricter system” with “a judge-like figure” and where “people are required to have advisors provided to them by the school to conduct cross examination during the hearing.”

Molly Bird G, member of the committee tasked with reviewing the Institute’s policies and TIXSAC member, said in an interview with The Tech that the new, more legalistic procedure may “scare people away from reporting, so we want to keep the current process, which, in theory has lower barrier to entry.”

The new regulations apply to cases of sexual misconduct categorized under Title IX Sexual Harassment. The Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office’s website describes these as cases where an MIT employee “conditions the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of MIT on” participation “in unwelcome sexual conduct”; where unwelcome conduct is considered “to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that if effectively denies a person equal access to MIT’s education”; or where sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking take place as defined by federal law.

Additionally, the conduct must occur in an education program or activity controlled by MIT and must take place in the U.S. When filing the formal complaint, the complainant must be participating in activity at MIT.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos passed the new regulations in May, and the ED required universities to update their policies by Aug. 14 to comply with federal law. At the time, the Institute charged a committee chaired by Professor Andrew Whittle ScD ’87 and Professor Munther Dahleh to advise the creation of new policies.

Bird said that these policies are interim measures following the regulations and that the “plan is to keep evaluating our policies.”

Bianca Lepe G, member of the committee and TIXSAC member, said in an interview with The Tech that there are lawsuits against the ED around the new regulations and that it is possible they will affect the policies in the upcoming semester.

The regulations were criticized by advocacy groups, including the National Women’s Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, for their strict definition of sexual harassment, legalistic requirements, and requirement of cross-examination during hearings.

Valeri said that “even though the regulations have changed, there’s nothing too small to go to IDHR for, and there’s a lot of informal remedies that IDHR can provide.” Lepe added that IDHR does not “move forward on any trajectory involving the student unless the student agrees.”

Update 8/25/20: This article was updated to include quotes from members of TIXSAC.