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On the Proposal

A proposal to alter Title IX — the US regulation that protects against sex discrimination in education — has garnered more than 89,000 public comments, Nature News reports, noting that scientists are among those protesting the plan.

As Nature News notes, the proposal from the Department of Education would alter the regulation's language defining sexual harassment from "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" to "unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to [their institution's] education program or activity."

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says the change would protect the accused as well as victims. "Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined," she said in a statement when the proposal was unveiled. "We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process."

Critics of the proposed alteration say that the rule change expands the rights of the accused and protects institutions, as the New York Times reported in November.

In addition, Nature News notes that a June report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found sexual harassment to be common in the sciences and efforts to combat it have been ineffective.

"I firmly believe this will have a chilling effect on reporting and will also cause a lot of confusion," Jill Dunlap from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators tells Nature News.

The comment period on the proposal ends today.