The current call for public comment on the Department of Education’s proposed rule on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance, known more succinctly as Title IX, has occupied a lot of attention since it was opened on November 29, 2018. You may be following the discussions considering what the proposed rule would mean for you and the students with whom you work, and wondering how your individual perspective fits into the conversation If so, we encourage you to draft and submit your own comments by the January 28, 2019 deadline.
In keeping with the civic engagement and advocacy goals and objectives of NASPA’s strategic plan, we actively encourage higher education professionals to add their expertise to the public comments submitted to the Department. We recognize, however, that many professionals may be sensitive to their institutional roles and responsibilities and hesitant to speak out on issues different from or even in contradiction of comments submitted by their employer. This post reviews why and how individuals can and should submit comments for consideration by the Department.
Effective governing requires that those responsible for crafting regulations – in this case the many career professionals working within the Department of Education – hear from the thousands of institution-based experts working with students on a daily basis. Student affairs professionals are often in positions to see how proposed regulations will affect a broad group of students and that sort of expertise is valuable in helping Executive agencies create effective and fair regulations. Public participation in the rulemaking process is a chance for the community to enable workable, well-crafted regulations that are in keeping with the intent of the underlying law without taking a side on a particular issue.
When there is a proposed rule germane to our work as higher education student affairs professionals, NASPA, along with many other national higher education associations, works to provide as detailed comments as possible, representative of the views of our collective membership. However, it is not unusual for regulations to be proposed on issues or topics on which professional opinion or practice within the field of student affairs is influenced by the diversity of contexts in which we work. The Department of Education is responsible for crafting regulations that govern all higher education settings, but they cannot possibly employ individuals with the expertise and insight into all of those diverse contexts. The public comment process is an essential method for them to hear and learn from experts in the field so they can craft effective and efficient regulations. Particularly for individuals who have direct experience working in an area that would be changed under the proposed rule, sharing your direct experience is just as meaningful as sharing broad institutional or national data or statistics.
Most of us are used to using our title and institutional affiliation as a short-hand way to establish our professional credibility. When submitting comments, however, unless you have specifically been authorized by your institutional leadership, you will want to be careful not to imply that you are speaking on behalf of your institution. Using your official title may inadvertently signal that you are speaking as an official of your institution, so you may consider describing your expertise or experience instead of giving your title. Some examples for how you can do this are provided below:
Effective comments provide unique, detailed information to the Department, using as specific information as possible. When submitting comments, you can comment and cite examples from your experience even if your institution chooses not to comment or if your institution (or association) highlights different things in their comment than you want to in yours. When citing examples, you should always take care not to reveal personal details about any individuals, but you can talk about specific incidents that might offer an example pertinent to the rule and how it might affect students.
Detail is key, and commenters should feel free to offer alternative suggestions or solutions and address potential ramifications if they find certain provisions likely to be problematic. This provides considerations for the Department in revising their proposed rule. When referencing specific sections of the regulatory package, you can cite the page in the Federal Register on which it appears, e.g., 83 FR 61462, or, if you are referencing a section of the actual proposed regulation, the section of the regulation you are referencing, e.g., §106.30. Since this level of detail requires time, capacity, and thorough revision, you should feel free to reference key points compiled by associations or groups whose interests align with yours. See NASPA’s Q&A on Federal Regulatory Notice and Comment Periods and the Tips for Submitting Effective Comments at regulations.gov for more suggestions on what to include in your comments.
Proposed rules, also referred to as Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs), are published in the Federal Register and regulations.gov. When NPRMs are published, they include a Docket ID that you can use to find the proposed rule package, though both websites include robust search functions that allow you to search by keyword, the issuing agency, the publication date, the comment deadline, and more. All of the information regarding a regulatory package is available on both websites and you should take time to review the entire package on which you wish to comment. The two websites look slightly different, but both will formally register your comment.
NASPA is committed to encouraging civic engagement not just among students, but also among student affairs professionals. If you have any questions about submitting comments on a proposed regulatory package, please feel free to reach out to Teri Lyn Hinds ([email protected]), NASPA’s director of policy research and advocacy.
 For example, NASPA staff have developed several resources intended to help higher education leaders learn about and respond to the proposed Title IX rule. Prior to the winter break, we held several information sessions (recordings are available in the NASPA Online Learning Community) and published a 4-part blog series providing a preliminary analysis of the proposed rule. In early January, we released a series of Resource Guides that expand on many of the topics we highlighted in December with links to research and data that individuals and institutions can use to bolster their comments as needed.
 Due to the partial shutdown of the federal government, neither the Federal Register electronic comments nor regulations.gov are currently operating. Comments may still be submitted by mail addressed to the address noted in the NPRM. For the Title IX proposed rule, mailed comments should be submitted by January 28, 2019 to Brittany Bull, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW, Room 6E310, Washington, DC 20202.