Donald Trump’s stunning victory on Tuesday night has already sent shockwaves through colleges and universities, islands of cosmopolitan left-wing politics where the President-elect is hated and feared more than in perhaps any other sector of American life. And while it’s unlikely that the panicked and overwrought fears of the academic establishment will be vindicated, the Trump Administration—combined with unified Republican control of Congress—looks likely to strike a major blow against the heart of the campus Left’s agenda by rolling back federal support for the academic sex bureaucracy that has expanded dramatically during the Obama years. Inside Higher Education reports:
Trump, who faces allegations of sexual assault and criticism over his treatment of women, has said little about how he would approach sexual violence on college campuses. While his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, reached out to several victims’ organizations during the election, Trump contacted none. His lack of a plan has worried many victims’ advocates, and comments made during the campaign by some of Trump’s surrogates suggesting that, if elected, Trump would scale back Title IX, or even eliminate the Department of Education or the Office of Civil Rights, has caused more concern. […]
In an interview with Inside Higher Ed in May, Sam Clovis, the national co-chair and policy director of Trump’s campaign, suggested moving the Office for Civil Rights to the Justice Department’s civil rights division. At a meeting with urban school superintendents last month, Trump’s New York state co-chairman, Carl Paladino, characterized the Office for Civil Rights as unnecessary, calling it “self-perpetuating, absolute nonsense,” and saying all campus discrimination cases should be handled by U.S. attorneys.
The Office for Civil Rights in Education is the agency responsible for controversially expanding federal power over campus sexual assault and harassment investigations, ordering colleges to reduce the burden of proof required for disciplinary action, and leaning on them to expand the definition of proscribed speech and behavior. Fearful of losing federal funding, colleges have ramped up the intensity of their sexual misconduct investigations and hired armies of consultants and Title IX coordinators to help them with the task, often at a real cost to the civil liberties of students and faculty.
There are a number of ways that the Trump Administration might back away from the Obama Administration’s campus agenda. The most cautious approach would be to merely nominate a political moderate as director of the Office for Civil Rights in Education. During the Obama Administration, the Office has been headed by highly ideological lawyers who see American college campuses as ground-zero of a rape crisis so urgent that it must be addressed with unilateral federal mandates. A moderate or conservative appointee might not shred the agency’s past work, but he or she would be likely to tone down the rate at which the agency promulgates new rules. Under the last Republican administration, the OCR even reminded campuses that nothing in federal anti-discrimination guidance required campuses to violate student or faculty free speech rights.
Then there are more creative approaches. As Inside Higher Education notes, the administration could seek to eliminate the Office of Civil Rights, or eliminate the Department of Education and move the Office of Civil Rights into the Department of Justice, where its mandate for addressing campus issues would presumably be reduced. But such actions would require an act of Congress, and it remains to be seen whether this kind of government shakeup will be a high priority for the new Republican majority.
No matter what happens, it’s likely that the federal campaign to pressure universities to toughen Title IX enforcement will come to an end. But this does not mean that the reality on most campuses will move in a more libertarian direction. Just as overwrought campus PC was a perfect animating foil for Trump’s campaign, his presidency will be taken on many campuses as evidence that America is overrun with racism and misogyny, and that the campus anti-discrimination agenda is therefore more vital than ever before.