American Association of University Professors expresses concern over Dept. of Education’s new mandates

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The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Thursday expressed concern to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over the sexual harassment guidance the department issued to colleges in April.

In a letter to Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, AAUP explained that while the organization has been pleased with the government’s push to reduce gender inequality in America’s educational institutions, they have concerns about potential overreach by the government.

According to the AAUP, the April “Dear Colleague Letter,” which detailed guidance for colleges on how to deal with sexual harassment contained two issues the group found particularly troubling. The first was the department’s request that “a preponderance of evidence” be a new standard for proving a sexual harassment charge.

“Given the seriousness of accusations of harassment and sexual violence and the potential for accusations, even false ones, to ruin a faculty member’s career, we believe that the ‘clear and convincing’ standard of evidence is more appropriate than the ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard,” Ann Green, chair of the AAUP Committee on Women in the Academic Profession, and Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP wrote on behalf of the organization.

Second, the AAUP explained that they fear academic freedom could be threatened for those who teach courses related to sex and sexuality.

“‘Dear Colleague’ should encourage discussion of topics like sexual harassment both in and outside of the curriculum, but acknowledge that what might be offensive or uncomfortable to some students may also be necessary for their education,” the letter continued. (ALSO IN EDUCATION: SC college enacts mandatory fitness assessment program for freshmen)

The complaint is similar to other groups that had concerns with the April guidance, such as the academic freedom organization, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

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