Washington, Dec. 3 2012 (AVfM News) On Friday, November 30 Russlyn Ali, head of the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and author of the infamous “Dear Colleague Letter” stepped down from her post. The letter, otherwise known as the April 4th Directive, threatened withdraw of all Title IX funding to institutions that did not comply with a new set of guidelines concerning sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints which severely eroded due process protections for the accused party. There has not yet been any official announcement from the Department of Higher Education of her departure or who her successor will be.
The letter was met with a considerable amount of protest from groups like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments and the American Association of University Professors. It is not yet clear as to whether or not the reason for Ali’s departure from the OCR has anything to do with push-back from the Dear Colleague Letter. While it is not at all unusual for people heading government offices to step down after a four year term, there is, however every indication that directive made her very unpopular in the Higher Education community.
In an article published in the Cronicle of Higher Education, the premier trade publication for college and university administrators, the excesses of the OCR during her tenure were highlighted and author Erick Kelderman stated :
To many in higher education, Ms. Ali became the unwelcome face of an agency aggressively extending its regulatory reach in enforcing federal rules against bullying, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment.
Education Week, another trade publication serving higher, primary and secondary education announced her intention to step down on Thursday of last week and also outlined her less than four year tenure there.
For folks in districts, an inquiry from OCR is a dreaded occurrence, and, in the view of some, it became even more so in the nearly four years Ali has been in charge.
….wrote author Lesli Maxwell in the article announcing the development.
There is no doubt that throughout our education system the DE’s OCR has for long been seen as a heavy handed and intrusive entity and that its use of Title IX funding as a bullwhip to intimidate institutions into stepping in line with its often unpopular policies has been met with much resentment.
F.I.R.E’s Senior Vice President Robert Shibley issued a statement regarding Ali’s stepping down:
While we wish Ms. Ali the best, we hope her successor will end OCR’s silence regarding widespread concerns about the fundamental due process rights of students and faculty members.
F.I.R.E., the AAUP and SAVE have written multiple open letters to the OCR demanding that the directive be repealed but there was never any public response to their demands. The OCR has also failed to discuss publicly the directive and the issue has been ignored by all but a few media outlets, the most notable of which being the Wall Street Journal which published a critical commentary written by Peter Berkowitz last year.
As mentioned above, there is no indication to specific reasons for Ali stepping down, however, if it can be established that she is resigning in any part due to criticism of her April 4th 2011 directive then it will mark a milestone in this type of activism and a watershed moment for the improvement of the lives of male college students.
While there still is no official announcement on the DE website, Seth Galanter, who has been a deputy assistant secretary in OCR, has been promoted to replace Ali as acting assistant secretary.