Statement by USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman on New Title IX Regulations and Planning for the Fall Semester

Baltimore, Md. (May 11, 2020)

I’d like to start my update with brief comments about changes to federal Title IX regulations issued last week by the U.S. Department of Education.

The new regulations alter the way that colleges and universities must handle sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints—for instance, requiring that universities hold live hearings and allow cross-examination when adjudicating sexual misconduct cases; narrowing the scope of complaints that universities must investigate; allowing universities to raise the standard-of-evidence constituting a violation of campus policy; and reducing the number of employees considered “mandatory reporters” of sexual misconduct claims.

The University System is concerned about these new regulations, and that concern is twofold: First, the new rules impose a costly, expanded regulatory burden on our institutions, and we believe they may discourage survivors of sexual assault from coming forward; and second, the timing of the regulations’ release in the midst of a pandemic greatly complicates our ability to fully implement the new rules in time for the coming academic year.

Despite this, we remain committed to reducing incidents of sexual misconduct on campus, respecting the rights of every student, and providing an adjudicatory process that’s fair to all parties. We will continue our work to ensure that the University System is a safe and inclusive community, and to ensure that Title IX remains an effective tool for promoting fairness in our policies, equity in our programs, and justice for our people.

I’d like to turn my attention now to the planning we’ve undertaken for our fall semester.

As you know, the Governor last week lifted restrictions on outdoor recreational activities and elective medical procedures. If conditions permit, we anticipate that further rollbacks of the stay-at-home order may be coming soon. At the same time, we’re mindful that certain ZIP codes and counties in Maryland bear a disproportionate share of COVID cases. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, where we have a considerable number of students and employees, account for fully half of Maryland’s disease burden. This tension—between reopening the state and staying shuttered, between safeguarding lives and preserving livelihoods—has only increased speculation about the USM’s fall semester.

I want to make clear that the University System is planning to resume at least some in-person teaching and learning this fall, though our delivery of instruction will include a variety of approaches, both online and face-to-face. Of course, our primary consideration as we undertake this planning is the health and safety of the USM’s students, faculty, and staff, as well as our university neighbors.

As I shared with you last month, I’ve convened a USM Return to Campus Advisory Group made up of university-based leaders, who have, in turn, assembled their own cross-campus committees consisting of functional area experts. The group is outlining what conditions must exist—within the state and on and around each campus—for students to return in the fall, and it’s helping institutions draw out how the prescribed conditions will affect their academic and administrative operations: What campus living and learning configurations do they need to map out to function safely in a post-COVID landscape? Which resources do they have and which do they need? What policies might they have to revisit? What are their legal considerations? How do we ensure quality—and equity—in students’ learning experience, when they might be learning in different ways and in different environments?

One thing we know for certain is that each campus—based on its student population, its size, its type, its location—will have very different considerations determining how it might accomplish in-person instruction. And our campus plans will absolutely reflect this diversity, because implementation in a System like ours simply won’t work without flexibility. That said, we will aim for solidarity among our institutions to the extent possible—with some consistency in, for instance, a return-to-campus date and baseline safety precautions. To that last point, we’ve stipulated that every institution will have to have a plan to test for COVID-19, to maintain social distancing, to enhance the cleaning of its buildings, and to continually monitor the effectiveness of these and other safety measures.

Every one of our universities is already fully engaged in this planning process. We’re facilitating their communication and collaboration, because they’re all dealing broadly with the same questions, the same constituencies, but, of course, in different ways. We’re guiding their thinking as to the feasibility and implications of various return-to-campus scenarios and what’s needed to support each. And as our universities settle on their optimal course of action, we’re helping them shape their fallback plans, their contingency plans, in case their assumptions or conditions change—conditions internal to the campus itself, or conditions within the surrounding community, within the state, within the nation, etc.

We know that interest in our return-to-campus plans is especially high among prospective, incoming, and returning students. So that these students and their families may make informed decisions about fall enrollment, all universities have agreed to communicate their initial plans for the fall by the end of this month.

Before I finish my report, I’d like to mention that, last week, we unveiled a website for the System’s COVID Research and Innovation Task Force, with information on our activities in medicine and clinical care, public health policy, engineering and physical science, and computer and data science.

On the site is a prominent link where our public and private partners can connect with us, and find places where our respective activities could intersect—in improving treatment, or inhibiting disease spread, or developing public policy.

What we want most of all is for this to be a collaborative undertaking, so that we can scale and deploy projects for the biggest impact possible on medical capacity, technological innovation, and, of course, community and population health. So we’ll continue to build out this site as our work progresses. Thank you.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719