The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) official John K. DiPaolo may be the federal employee taking the most heat right now.

DiPaolo has been tasked with defending the constitutionally indefensible: The new Title IX sexual harassment rules. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports from a conference session at which the OCR represented “descended into self-parody”. (Hat-tip, Glenn Reynolds).

But the pinnacle of this article, and the key to understanding why OCR has made such a hash of its regulations, has to be this segment:

And to the extent that college officials read the Montana agreement to say that OCR was altering the definition of sexual harassment to include things that were something less than “objectively offensive,” he insisted that the agency remains faithful to legislative language that defines sexual harassment or other misconduct under Title IX as something that “limits or denies a student’s ability to benefit from their educational program.”

“Whether it’s severe or pervasive or objectively offensive isn’t really what matters,” he said. “The Title IX standard is that there has been unwelcome sexual conduct that is sufficiently serious that it limits or denies the student’s ability to benefit from the educational program.”

The audacity of an OCR attorney telling a roomful of college and university attorneys that legal standards don’t matter is breathtaking. Here you have it, plainly stated: To OCR, it doesn’t matter whether allegedly harassing conduct is severe, or whether it’s pervasive, or whether it’s even offensive to a reasonable person. Expression that is minor, isolated, or inoffensive to most people can be sexually harassing as long as it “limits” in some way a student’s ability to benefit from the educational program. Considering that nearly anything you don’t like to hear can “limit” the benefit of your education in some possibly minuscule way, this is practically no limitation at all. If a class discussion about women in the military made you angry enough that you stopped paying attention, you have had the benefit of your education limited to some extent. Does that make it harassment? Under OCR’s definition, yes. As FIRE has been saying, such a standard makes practically every student a harasser and makes the idea of harassment into a joke, trivializing real harassment.

…Again, I understand that DiPaolo was personally in a bad spot, having to defend the indefensible in front of a knowledgeable and skeptical audience. But my sympathy is limited—DiPaolo is OCR’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and presumably had plenty of input on developing this policy. OCR has made its bed; it’s only right that occasionally its key personnel be made to lie in it. Having heard DiPaolo’s “arguments” for OCR’s actions, it’s now up to college and university attorneys to decide whether they’ll buy what OCR is selling or finally begin to stand up and say “no” to the agency’s increasingly burdensome demands.