Harvard Introduces Digital Accessibility Policy Amidst Lawsuit

ADA Compliance, Equal Opportunity

Harvard is implementing a digital accessibility policy intended to make its websites and web-based applications more accessible to those with disabilities, the University announced Thursday.

The new policy will apply to any public-facing websites or applications within the University’s domain. The policy will go into effect for existing websites and any new digital content created or revised on or after Dec. 1, 2019.

The policy is meant to improve digital accessibility through means including captioning videos and formatting websites for screen reader compatibility, according to the policy’s associated FAQs.

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This new policy comes on the heels of an ongoing lawsuit against Harvard alleging the school failed to close caption and provided inaccurate captions for its public online content — including YouTube, iTunes U, Harvard@Home, and the Extension School’s sites. The National Association of the Deaf and four of the organization’s members originally filed the suit in February 2015 in Massachusetts District Court.

The initial complaint argues that Harvard’s allegedly inaccessible content violates the 1973 United States Rehabilitation Act — a disability civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in institutions that receive federal financial assistance. It also says Harvard violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a statute that prohibits disability discrimination in places of public accommodation.

The lawsuit continues to move through federal court after a judge denied Harvard’s motions to dismiss and issue summary judgment. A similar lawsuit was filed against MIT in 2015, which is also ongoing.

University spokesperson Nate Herpich declined to comment on the ongoing litigation but said the school is committed to increasing accessibility in its online content, as evidenced by the new policy.

“Expanding access to knowledge and making online content accessible is of vital importance to Harvard, and the University remains committed to advancing these efforts,” Herpich wrote in an emailed statement. “Harvard has been working for months to develop this Digital Accessibility Policy, and we are pleased to be able to announce it today.”

In April 2015 — two months after the NAD filed their lawsuit against Harvard — Harvard and MIT’s edX program, an online learning program founded in 2012, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice that required the program to be digitally accessible and addressed alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The settlement was not connected to the NAD filing.

The new initiative also creates a University-wide Accessibility Steering Committee to recommend websites that are high priority for accessibility improvements. The policy designates several Digital Accessibility Liaisons to coordinate implementing accessible content across Harvard websites and applications, as well as a team within the Harvard University Information Technology system to provide training and information about the new policies to faculty and staff.

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Official: MSU’s new Title IX hearings won’t put victims face-to-face with abusers

constitution, Due Process, Equal Opportunity, title IX

EAST LANSING — Michigan State University’s new Title IX hearings will not put people face-to-face with their alleged abusers, according to the interim head of the office that oversees the process.

“Nobody’s actually going to have to confront the person through the cross-examination,” Rob Kent said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

Kent, the university’s interim vice president of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance, said the hearings will take place electronically. He added that representatives, rather than the people directly involved in the complaints, will pose questions.

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The new hearing process is the result of a 2018 federal ruling in a case involving the University of Michigan that affirmed the right of students accused of violating university rules to use cross-examination in a live hearing.

Kent said hearings under the new process will begin next month as the university brings in administrative law judges from the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules to serve as resolution officers. That office is part of the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.  For the full story, click here …

OU cuts access to Title IX reports

Equal Opportunity, privacy, title IX

Change prioritizes student privacy, but is it at cost of public’s right to know?

Ohio University’s legal office said last week that it no longer will provide reports of investigations into student complaints that professors and staffers have violated federal Title IX non-discrimination policies.  This is a significant change in practice for the university, which up until this month had provided copies of its reports of an investigation conducted by OU’s Office for Equity and Civil Rights Compliance into student complaints.  In recent years, The Athens NEWS has published a number of articles based on those types of reports.

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Barbara Nalazek, OU’s deputy general counsel, said in a statement last Monday that the university would decline to provide The NEWS with four copies of the investigatory reports – called Memorandum of Findings (MOFs) – that the university created based on student complaints against OU professors this year.  

For the full article, click here….

DOE investigating Title IX complaints from men who say it discriminates in support of women

Due Process, Equal Opportunity, title IX

A men’s rights activist who has used federal complaints to target women-only scholarships and programs is now trying to start a national movement to end what he sees as discrimination against men.

Over the past 15 months, the activist, Kursat Pekgoz, 31, a doctoral student in English literature at the University of Southern California, has filed federal Title IX complaints against three universities, and drafted complaints against three more, alleging that efforts to support female students are no longer necessary and amount to discrimination against male students. Once outnumbered, women now make up about 56.5 percent of students at American universities, notes Pekgoz, who has himself been the subject of a Title IX investigation into a sexual harassment allegation.  For the full article, click here…

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Lawsuit: IU Violated Title IX By Suspending Male Student Accused Of Rape

Due Process, Equal Opportunity, title IX

A male student is suing Indiana University for Title IX violations, alleging the school’s investigation into rape accusations was biased against him because of his gender.

It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits invoking the federal civil rights law on behalf of men accused of sexual assault.

The Incident

The complicated details of the case begin in September 2017, when both John Doe and Jane Doe acknowledge they had sexual intercourse at a fraternity house. The two later learned someone else had taken a photo of them during intercourse and had shared it with others.

The photo was reported to IU officials and an investigation began a few days later. The university ultimately found two people responsible for taking and distributing the photo.

In May 2018, the school launched a new investigation after Jane reported she was too drunk to give consent that night and accused John of sexual assault.

Indiana University Police investigated and the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file rape charges.

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According to documents filed with the lawsuit, an IU panel heard testimony from both students; they gave conflicting accounts about the night, with John reporting that he verbally asked Jane for consent.

The panel determined in November that John “did not know or reasonably should not have known that Complainant was incapacitated,” but also determined he “more likely than not” violated sexual consent code of conduct policies. The panel also determined John allowed that photo to be taken.

His punishment included a four-year suspension, a no-contact order with Jane Doe, and a prohibition to be on campus during the suspension.  For a copy of the current lawsuit, click here…  395469534-John-Doe-v-Indiana-University-Title-IX-Violation-Complaint 

For the full article, click here… 

Dean of Harvard Faculty ‘Concerned’ About Proposed Federal Changes to Title IX

Due Process, Equal Opportunity, title IX

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said in an interview Wednesday that she is currently reviewing proposed changes to federal Title IX policy and would be “concerned” about any alterations that make it more difficult for people who have experienced sexual misconduct to report it.

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The proposed regulations — released last month alongside a statement from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — provide a new framework for interpreting Title IX, an anti-sex discrimination law that shapes the way universities address sexual harassment.

Under the new proposed rules — which could take effect in 2019 following a notice-and-comment period — universities would choose what standard of evidence to apply to cases of sexual misconduct, complainants and respondents of formal investigations would have the opportunity to question each other in a live hearing, and complaints of misconduct could not center on incidents that take place outside the bounds of a school “program or activity.”  To read the full article, click here…

He defended Michigan State vs. sexual assaults. Now he heads the Title IX Office

Due Process, Equal Opportunity, title IX

A Michigan State University attorney who defended the institution against sexual assault lawsuits is now heading the office handling sexual assault complaints — a move that is drawing criticism from victim advocates.

This month, Robert Kent was moved out of his assistant general counsel position and into the job of interim associate vice president of the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance — a decision made by MSU Interim President John Engler that is drawing scrutiny from critics, who say the move could send a discouraging message from the university. msu

“At every turn, they signal an unwillingness to deal with the culture, and a message to survivors that their voices don’t matter,” said Rachael Denhollander, the first Larry Nassar sex assault victim to come forth publicly. She said, in her view, the appointment of Kent to handle Title IX cases was the latest in a string of insensitive moves.  For the full story, click here …

“On Campus While Black” – is the trend of reporting to police about the presence of persons of color on a college campus a new form of campus segregation, a form of micro-gentrification or simply years of campus diversity training missing the mark?

Due Process, Equal Opportunity

A Yale student has police called on her for sleeping in a common room, police are called on two black men while meeting at Starbucks, police are again called on two Native-American college-tour attendees – this trend of alerting police to the simple presence of persons of color has been trending nationally for the past week. When this occurs on a college campus, it can have a direct effect on overall diversity, inclusiveness and police interaction with students.  In all cases as stated above, there had been no crime as the 911 caller suggested – or has there been?  In many states, there are statutes on record that criminalize the filing of false police reports.  The question then becomes, is a 911 call to the police due simply to the presence of a person color on campus a “false police report.”  

In Massachusetts, for example, under G.L. c. 269, § 13A, “[w]hoever intentionally and knowingly makes or causes to be made a false report of a crime to police officers shall be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred nor more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than one year, or both.”

In California, “every person who reports to any other peace officer, … that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, woman-using-a-mobile-phoneis guilty of a misdemeanor if (1) the false information is given while the peace officer is engaged in the performance of his or her duties as a peace officer and (2) the person providing the false information knows or should have known that the person receiving the information is a peace officer.”  See, CHAPTER 7. Other Offenses Against Public Justice [142 – 181].  In Florida, a person who knowingly gives false information to a law enforcement officer concerning the alleged commission of any crime, commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.  

While the various laws of many states are fairly consistent regarding false police reports, approaches by various colleges are not.  Diversity training on a college campus can address these important concerns while at the same time delivers a greater sense of inclusiveness to those students of color impacted.  Do you think colleges should be more aggressive in helping to prosecute the filing of false police reports?

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A black Yale graduate student took a nap in her dorm’s common room. So a white student called police

constitution, Due Process, Equal Opportunity

Looks like all those campus-wide diversity trainings just weren’t enough.  A white person voices suspicions about an innocuous person of color. Police are summoned. And the encounter is posted on social media, sparking outrage about racial profiling.  In what is becoming an all-too familiar episode, a black Yale University graduate student was interrogated by campus police officers early Tuesday morning after a white student found her sleeping in a common room of their dorm and called police.  For the full story, click here… Yale_University_logo.

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