Thursday, June 16, 2016

Biden Ready to Freeze Funds For Schools That Don’t Comply with Anti-Sexual Assault Initiative

Meghan Yap, a rape survivor who has used her horrific experience to speak out against rape culture, introduced Vice President Joe Biden at Tuesday’s White House State of Women summit in the nation’s capital. Biden is the perfect champion for women, Yap said, because he is the author of the Violence Against Women Act in the 1990s, which she says has worked to prevent assault and save lives.

“This has literally been the cause of my life,” Biden said after taking the stage.

“It’s all about the abuse of power – even the sexual assault,” he explained. “We have to give women and girls a greater voice. But that’s not enough. They have to be assured their voices are heard.”

At a White House event on Monday night, Biden shared how seven women grabbed his arm and thanked him for his efforts on VAWA, revealing that they had been raped. These were just a handful of the hundreds of testimonies he's heard about women being assaulted.

The vice president said he learned to respect women by following an important lesson from his father, “The cardinal sin of all sins is for man to raise his hand to a woman or child.”

Biden said at the time he introduced the bill that he got criticized on the right. Republicans accused his shelters of being “indoctrination centers,” he said. The legislation was also unpopular with women’s groups, he noted, because they worried it would take everyone’s eyes off gender equality and “choice.”

“So, I concluded the way we can make progress was to rip the mask off the dirty little secret that we had an epidemic in America,” Biden said.

The two most important goals of the act, he said, are to make sure women know they are believed and to accurately identify attackers.

“Women are getting to the point where they feel somebody might listen to them,” he said.

“Every single woman has the right to live her life free of violence.”

Then he offered an extreme analogy to demonstrate what he meant.

If a woman stripped “stark naked” here in the ballroom and walked to the Capitol, Biden suggested, she can be arrested for indecent exposure, but no man has a right to touch her.

“Violence against women is a crime pure and simple.”

Yet, the vice president admitted they have plenty of work to do to prevent sexual assault. The most discouraging moment of his career, he said, came after learning that among young women aged 18 and 24, the rate of violence has not decreased a single bit. Likewise, sexual assault on college campuses has not gone down at all.

Combating assault on college campuses appears to be an especially important cause for Biden. Last week, he penned an open letter to the victim involved in the high profile Stanford rape case, telling her he was “in awe” of her courage to speak out.

Biden and his team reached out to colleges across the country to get feedback on how they could change this dangerous culture. The top thing they heard from students, he said, was to get men involved. So, they started the It’s On Us initiative.

“The answer isn’t to shame women for drinking,” he said. “Consent isn’t ‘well I didn’t hear no.’ Sex without consent is rape.”

“Everyone has a responsibility,” he continued, particularly school administrations. “There is no excuse” for an institution of higher learning to put its reputation above students’ respect.

He and his staff are studying the results of hundreds of colleges across the country to determine if they have followed the It’s On Us guidelines.

If not, they can expect to be stripped of some important funding.

Biden says he “welcomes criticism” for this speech.


LGBT Bill Threatens California’s Religious Schools

A California state bill its sponsors say will prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at private universities is threatening to expose faith-based schools to enormous legal threats, school officials warn.

SB 1146, introduced in February by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which passed the state Senate May 26, is designed to close “a little-known loophole” in California law under which private colleges can make admission, housing, and faculty decisions based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, according to a press release from Lara’s office.

Lara is part of the state Legislature’s seven-member California Legislative Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus, which advocates for LGBT rights.

“Under state law, at least 34 California universities are exempt and do not have to comply with state nondiscrimination laws, leaving thousands of students open to discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Lara said in a statement provided to The Daily Signal. “These universities have a license to discriminate and students have absolutely no recourse. Addressing this issue is long overdue.”

But critics say that this “loophole” is a deliberate and necessary protection to ensure that their exercise of religious liberty is protected.

“For us, the most chilling effect of this bill if it becomes law is it could result in an attempt to eliminate faith-based decisions when it comes to admission, housing, and perhaps even employment at faith-based campuses,” John Jackson, president of William Jessup University in Rocklin, California, said in an interview with The Daily Signal.

Even worse, critics argue, Lara’s bill might make it impossible for private schools to operate under any faith-based principles.

This is because SB 1146 dramatically tightens the criteria under which a school can cite freedom of conscience in making curricular and administrative decisions.

California’s education code already explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, but exempts “an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.”

Under Lara’s  legislation, that exemption would shrink dramatically, covering only “certain educational programs and activities of a postsecondary educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization.” The exception would apply to programs that “prepare students to become ministers of the religion, to enter upon some other vocation of the religion, or to teach theological subjects pertaining to the religion.”

As a result, administrators at faith-based colleges worry that they will soon have no legal recourse to make decisions based on their religion. 

“The problem is that it provides a course of legal action for any student that feels they’ve been discriminated against in any other setting,” Jackson said, adding:

So if this bill passes, and a student comes to our school and says, ‘I feel really uncomfortable that chapel was mandatory, or that the professor opened class in prayer, or with community service’—that is a required part of our faith commitments—the bill as written creates a private right of action, meaning that the student would have the right to sue a school over what faith-based schools consider a core part of our spiritual life.

Additionally, in a move that mirrors the Department of Education’s May release of documents revealing colleges that had appealed for religious exemptions to Title IX discrimination requirements, SB 1146 would require faith-based schools to disclose their religious exemption publicly on campus and in all promotional materials, including brochures, letters to high school applicants, and tours for new or prospective students.

Roger Severino, director of The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, called the California bill “a direct assault on the ability of religious educational institutions to participate in public life and remain true to their religious identity.”

“There is no good policy rationale for stripping exemptions that have worked well for decades and have helped foster, not hinder, diversity in education,” Severino said in an email to The Daily Signal.

Several of the more radical provisions originally in SB 1146, including one that would allow students to bring civil suits against schools that qualified for waivers, already have been neutralized through amendments. But critics say that the amended bill continues to represent an existential threat to the survival of faith-based colleges and the diversity of college choice across California.

“It’s actually an attempt to decrease diversity in higher education rather than increase it,” Jackson said. “Students attend our schools voluntarily, and we think that the senator is making a grave mistake with this bill.”


China accused of buying influence over Australian universities

The Chinese government is buying influence over Australian universities by donating libraries and funds for institutes as part of a broader push to strengthen its soft power in the country, two Australian journalists have argued.

There appears to be “a concerted campaign to promote Beijing’s strategic interests in Australia through deals covering all the key areas of society”, claims a new piece in the Australian Financial Review.

The debate in Australia echoes concerns in the US, where the Chinese government has been accused of seeking to exert control over the academy by funding Confucius Institutes on university campuses.

The institutes are normally limited to teaching courses on Chinese language and culture and organising events, but critics have argued that they exert a chilling effect on debate about China’s ruling Communist Party and could be used to observe Chinese students abroad. US universities including Penn State University have already closed their Confucius Institutes because of these fears.

In Australia, the Chinese government has donated a library to the University of Technology Sydney, while the Chinese Yuhu Group donated AUS$3.5 million (£1.8 million) to the University of Western Sydney to fund a new Chinese cultural institute and AUS$1.8 million to create the Australia China Relations Institute, the AFR article says.

The authors, Angus Grigg and Primrose Riordan, write that the Chinese government is also buying influence over other areas of Australian society.

“To date money linked to China’s Communist Party has flowed to both major political parties, universities, primary schools, the national broadcaster and this week to the country’s biggest media companies,” they write.

They quote Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, who said: “We have to assume that there is a larger strategy by the Communist Party to shift domestic public opinion in Australia on sensitive issues such as the US alliance and the South China Sea.

“The long-term goal is to make Australia less likely to oppose China in regional confrontations,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the University of Western Sydney directed Times Higher Education to a statement released last year about the establishment of the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture, which says it will be “an important point of access to Chinese culture, providing resources, support and expertise for those wishing to study and research one of the world’s oldest and most enduring societies”.


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