Law Professor's Title IX course addresses timely issues in higher education

By Kristy Demas
U-M Law

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities. Professor Rebecca Veidlinger’s course, Title IX and Higher Education, covers the scope of sex discrimination and the legal issues and policies of how college campuses investigate and adjudicate sexual harassment and assault cases.

Veidlinger’s interest in gender-based discrimination took root when she was a graduate student studying public policy and women’s studies. After law school, she gained tremendous practical insight into the issue of campus sexual assault — as the sex crimes prosecutor for Monroe County, Indiana (home of Indiana University), and later as a Title IX investigator for the University of Michigan and as Michigan State University’s interim deputy Title IX coordinator. Currently, she is in private practice as a Title IX investigator and consultant, and is grateful to be teaching a course that draws from her considerable expertise—especially at this point in time.

“Today is a dynamic moment in Title IX jurisprudence due to the national attention on how campus sexual assault is addressed and the rising activism we have seen from many interested constituencies,” Veidlinger says.

Associate Dean for Academic Programming Gil Seinfeld agrees.

“Law and policy in the Title IX space has been the focus of extraordinary public scrutiny in recent years. It’s essential that our students have opportunities to learn about this subject matter, and we’re thrilled to have found a teacher as experienced and capable as Professor Veidlinger to offer the course.”

Veidlinger’s class looks at the impact of federal and state laws on investigations and compliance reviews, recent court cases, and regulatory change—such as proposed revisions to the Title IX regulations made by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “Her proposed changes thrust Title IX back into the national spotlight and have the potential to significantly alter the way school-based sexual harassment and violence are handled by institutions,” Veidlinger said.

The revisions sparked an in-class project during which Veidlinger divided students into law firms representing three interest groups—university administrators, sexual assault victims/survivors, and advocates for the rights of the accused—and asked each to write their own Title IX regulations from their assigned viewpoint. “They raised a lot of interesting questions, illustrating how laws can be subject to different interpretations based on who is reviewing them and from which perspective,” she said. “We are all learning together that this is a challenging and fluid topic due to the changing nature of the regulatory framework.”

Title IX is a weighty topic but Veidlinger is delighted by the passion it generates in her students—evenly divided by gender and diverse in their career interests. “Some are focused on gender equity and civil rights, but the majority are pursuing other career paths. Their interests range from patents to corporate law to real estate. It’s been great to see them really dig in to the details of Title IX law given their range of backgrounds and ultimate professional directions.”

After volunteering with campus sexual violence programs and becoming interested in being an advocate for victims of gender-based violence, 1L Kaitlyn Beyer wanted to study Title IX. “Learning from a professor whose insights come from so many sides of the issue made the class phenomenal. Professor Veidlinger taught us to critically evaluate policies based on what they are intended to accomplish and what incentives they create,” she said. “This forced me to challenge my own political views and made me a better student for it. When I begin my legal career, I will take the skills I gained in this class to think critically, advocate clearly, and keep fighting for effective policies and programs that support the people as they are intended to do.”

It’s just the balance Veidlinger wanted to strike. “My hope is that by the end of this course, my students are legally informed to the fullest extent about Title IX. Recent regulatory reform guarantees that Title IX will remain a topic of public debate. I hope my students take what they learned in class to contribute knowledgeably and thoughtfully to the public conversation. I have faith that our students, tomorrow’s lawyers, can look critically at these important issues and make a difference.”