Rebecca Veidlinger, Law School lecturer and current Title IX investigator, has begun teaching a course focused on Title IX and its role in institutions of higher education. The course centers upon policy issues relating to the investigation of sexual misconduct and the importance of other federal laws in response to these allegations. Veidlinger, who investigates allegations of gender-based discrimination and sexual violence as an attorney in private practice, structured the class as a 16-person seminar in order to facilitate open discussion and debate.
The University revised its sexual misconduct policy after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September 2018 that public universities “must give the accused student or his agent an opportunity to cross-examine the accuser.” Echoing this decision, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos strengthened the rights of defendants in Title IX cases by allowing for a period of cross-examination between the accuser and accused in November 2018. These developments in Title IX policy have created a ripple across campus, with letter writing campaigns and student group petitions.
Veidlinger said her work as an attorney and investigator offers students a real-world perspective on these issues to enhance their understanding of legal theory.
“I cannot only teach the theory, the legal bases like case law and the legal texts, but I can also share with them what I’m seeing on ground,” Veidlinger said. “We’ll learn about the regulations and then I’m going to tell them: here’s what this looks like in real life.”
This class has been taught previously, but it is the first time Veidlinger is teaching it. Law School student Rebecca Strauss, who is enrolled in the class, said Veidlinger’s background as an attorney in private practice offers a unique opportunity to learn from someone further removed from the University administration.
“In the past, this course has been co-taught by the general counsel of the University and the Title IX coordinator of the University,” Strauss said. “I’ve heard that the perspective was a little more biased in favor of what the University does to deal with these things, and I’m excited to be able to learn from a professional with an outside perspective.”
Gil Seinfeld, associate dean for academic programming at the Law School, noted how Veidlinger’s experience in Title IX investigation demonstrates her serious commitment to enforcing the law she teaches.
“For any faculty member, it is so important to communicate genuine immersion in and about the subject matter,” Seinfeld said. “I think she (Veidlinger) is obviously seriously engaged and enthusiastic about teaching and she’s going to bring that into the classroom.”
Strauss hopes the course will provide her with a legal framework to better inform her opinions. Strauss is a board member of the Gender Violence Project, a student organization within the Law School which raises awareness about gender discrimination in the American legal system and represents victims of sexual assault. Strauss said her work with the project has made her increasingly passionate about defending the rights of accusers, but also acknowledged it is necessary to eliminate bias in order to study law.
“Title IX proceedings within the University aren’t judicial proceedings — there aren’t as many rules,” Strauss said. “Under this policy, it’s totally cool for your rapist to come up and slut-shame you in front of decision makers. I think that’s really troubling and unfair to complainants who are already going through this potentially traumatic process. But I also understand that I have a lot of personal biases about that and I think it would do me some good to look at the full picture.”
Veidlinger said the course consists of in-class discussions regarding the history and current use of Title IX policy in higher education. Instead of a final exam, there will be a paper on any topic a student finds particularly interesting related to Title IX. Veidlinger noted how the study of Title IX is not complete until it incorporates current events and changes to policy that frequently arise.
“In my experience, something that is so interesting about Title IX is there are so many current events going on over the past few years, and I suspect into the future, that I think it’s a great time to study Title IX,” Veidlinger said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if my syllabus has to change mid-way through based on changes that may come down through court decisions or agency actions from the Department of Education.”