Under threat of losing funding, UW System adopts sexual assault rule change criticized for disempowering survivors.

UW Regents emphasized that not complying with new federal Title IX standards could have cost the UW System $1 billion in funding. Graphic: Sam Buisman

Author: Sam Buisman

The UW System complies with a national sexual assault rule change criticized for disempowering survivors to preserve its federal funding. 

According to a press release, the UW Board of Regents approved an emergency rule change on Wednesday aligning its Title IX procedures with new Department of Education standards that, among other changes, increase protections for students accused of sexual assault. While board members shared in the concern that this may chill sexual assault reporting, they stressed that not complying with these new standards could mean the loss of almost $1 billion in federal funding. 

In a press release, Regent Tracey L. Klein painted the rule change as federal arm-twisting.

“While we are forced to take this issue up today by the threatened withdrawal of federal funding,” said Klein, “I share the concern many have expressed that these new regulations will discourage victims of sexual harassment or discrimination from coming forward and will also make investigations more difficult.” 

Championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, these changes to Title IX require schools to establish accessible reporting channels for sexual assault but also give the accused party additional procedural and appellate rights. 

In June, Governor Tony Evers vetoed the UW System’s first attempt to update its rules to this new federal standard over concern for survivors but then condoned the change in July after the regents revised their scope statement. 

In the press release, UW System President Tommy Thompson promised that UW schools will remain committed to keeping students and staff safe on campus under these new rules.

“UW System campuses are committed to providing a learning and working environment free of harassment, discrimination, and violence,” said Thompson. “We will continue to aggressively enforce violations of law and our policies.”