In a recent essay, Shep Melnick, a distinguished scholar of American politics at Boston College, writes: Few federal laws have achieved their initial objective more completely than Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Yet today Title IX is more controversial than ever before. The story of its evolution is a cautionary tale about how good intentions and broadly shared goals can become distorted over time by aggressive cultural combat, and how hard it can be to reverse the damage.

In this Conversation, and expounding on themes addressed in his book The Transformation of Title IX: Regulating Gender Equality in Education, Melnick traces the transformation of Title IX from 1972 until the present. Conceived as an initiative that would prevent sex discrimination on campus, Title IX, as Melnick explains, became a catchall source for rules and regulations in higher education regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment, and offensive speech. Melnick argues that the Obama administration’s heavy-handed approach to Title IX enforcement created serious threats to due process and free speech on campus. Melnick praises the more recent efforts of the Department of Education in the Trump administration to roll back some of these problematic guidelines. Finally, he considers why the Biden administration—and universities and colleges—are hesitant to return to the Obama-era policies.

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