DeVos on right track with guideline changes
AS U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last week that needed changes were coming to Title IX rules regarding schools’ handling of sexual assault cases, protesters outside the hall at George Mason University held signs that said such things as “Justice for survivors” and “Sexual assault on campus is no joke.”
Yet DeVos feels the same way, and made that clear in her remarks.
“One rape is one too many, one assault is one too many, one aggressive act of harassment is one too many,” she said. And, DeVos added, “one person denied due process is one too many.”
That last point is central to her plan to roll back the Obama-era guidelines. The practices employed by colleges and universities in sexual assault cases, which stemmed from “Dear Colleague” letters sent in 2010 and 2011 by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, too frequently harmed those accused of misconduct.
Title IX bans discrimination based on gender for schools and programs that receive federal funding. Under the OCR guidelines, assault cases were heard by university administrators or panels. Universities were told by the OCR to use a preponderance of the evidence, instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as the threshold to determine whether someone had committed sexual assault.
The OCR discouraged cross-examination of those filing complaints, the accused often faced the allegations without benefit of counsel, and OCR required campuses to allow complainants to appeal decisions. Those found guilty could be expelled, and often were.
Problems with this approach were evident from the start. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education says at least 170 students who were accused of wrongdoing have brought legal challenges against their universities.
Among those critical of the OCR’s directives were 28 Harvard Law professors, who said they lacked “the most basic elements of fairness and due process” and were “overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.” Last year, 21 law professors from universities across the country wrote an open letter to the Department of Education to express their concerns. While applauding the OCR’s intent, they said the office had “unlawfully expanded the nature and scope of institutions’ responsibility to address sexual harassment, thereby compelling institutions to choose between fundamental fairness for students and their continued acceptance of federal funding.”
DeVos was criticized by left-leaning groups for even meeting this summer with students who said they had been wrongly convicted of Title IX violations. Her decision to change course drew more criticism. Former Vice President Joe Biden declared that “any change that weakens Title IX protections will be devastating.” The head of “End Rape on Campus,” meantime, said her group “will not accept this blatant favoritism for the rights of rapists under the guise of fairness.”
Yet under the previous guidelines, a rapist could be kicked out of school but faced no legal repercussions. How sensible is that?
With this reset, DeVos is simply seeking to bring balance to the system by protecting victims of sexual assault and the constitutional due-process rights of the accused. Parents with sons or daughters in college should welcome the change.