President Biden issued an executive order on Monday directing the Department of Education to review the Trump administration’s rules governing how schools and colleges handle sexual assault and harassment.
Another executive order established a White House Gender Policy Council.
“Elevating the status of women and girls globally is the right thing to do — it is a matter of justice, fairness, and decency, and it will lead to a better, more secure, and more prosperous world for us all,” Mr. Biden said in a statement, timing the action to mark International Women’s Day.
The first executive order dealt with Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and colleges. Mr. Biden directed the Education Department to review its orders and guidance on Title IX to ensure they do not conflict with the administration’s policy that the educational environment must be free of sexual violence or harassment and of discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The order also directs the department to specifically evaluate the Trump administration’s Title IX regulations.
Those regulations, which took effect last August, codified that sexual harassment is prohibited under Title IX and bolstered the due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct.
Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said Mr. Biden was picking and choosing who gets due process.
“The right to due process is bigger than partisan politics — it is a cornerstone of American democracy,” she said. “Perhaps President Biden has forgotten that the presumption of innocence has protected many liberal elites from sexual assault allegations. College students should be afforded the same rights and protections as Democrat politicians.”
That’s a possible reference to, among others, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat besieged by an expanding sexual harassment scandal.
Jennifer Klein, executive director of the Gender Policy Council, said the goal is a full and fair process.
“The policy of this administration is that every individual, every student is entitled to a fair education, free of sexual violence and that all involved have access to a fair process,” Ms. Klein said.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at educational institutions that receive federal funding.
Mr. Biden also issued an order establishing the Gender Policy Council itself, which will craft a “government-wide strategy” for advancing gender equity and equality, both in the U.S. and around the world.
The president said the council is intended “to ensure that every domestic and foreign policy we pursue rests on a foundation of dignity and equity for women.”
Julissa Reynoso, chief of staff to first lady Jill Biden, will serve as the council’s co-chair along with Ms. Klein.
In addition to two co-chairs, the council will consist of top Cabinet officials, including the secretaries of state, treasury, and defense. Members are supposed to designate a senior official in their agency or office to act as a liaison.
On the Title IX regulations, House Democrats had petitioned Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona last week to work with the Justice Department to stay enforcement of the previous administration’s rules, which also have been challenged in court.
The lawmakers said the new regulations impose narrower definitions on when and where sexual harassment or assault can take place for an investigation to proceed and that they discourage apparent victims from reporting assaults.
The regulations, shepherded by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, dialed back the Obama-era approach to sexual misconduct on campus that critics blamed for spurring a flood of complaints and lawsuits from men who claimed they were unjustly accused and railroaded by college tribunals.
During the campaign, Mr. Biden’s team said he would seek to reverse Ms. DeVos’ work on the issue and that a would-be Biden administration would restore the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance from 2011 when the education department issued strict directives to colleges on investigating complaints.
As vice president, Mr. Biden had also traveled to college campuses and was heavily involved in the Obama administration’s awareness campaigns surrounding sexual misconduct on campuses.
⦁ James Varney contributed to this report.