DeVos seeks over­haul of Obama-era sex­ual as­sault pol­icy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos an­nounced Thurs­day an ini­tia­tive to over­haul the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cam­pus sex­ual as­sault guide­lines, ac­cus­ing the “shame­ful” sys­tem of fail­ing the ac­cused and the ac­cuser by cre­at­ing “kan­ga­roo courts.”

Mrs. DeVos said she would is­sue a pub­lic no­tice aimed at re­form­ing the reg­u­la­tory frame­work cre­ated by the depart­ment’s Of­fice for Civil Rights in its 2011 Ti­tle IX guid­ance, which com­pels uni­ver­si­ties to take a harder line on cam­pus sex­ual as­sault or face a fed­eral civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“This un­rav­el­ing of jus­tice is shame­ful, it is wholly un-Amer­i­can, and it is anath­ema to the sys­tem of self-gov­er­nance to which our founders pledged their lives over 240 years ago,” she said in a speech at George Ma­son Univer­sity’s An­tonin Scalia Law School in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia. “There must be a bet­ter way for­ward.”

Mrs. DeVos said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion “weaponized the Of­fice for Civil Rights to work against schools and against stu­dents,” pro­duc­ing a sys­tem in which “un­elected and un­ac­count­able po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees” have ruled from their desks by send­ing let­ters to uni­ver­si­ties.

“The era of ‘rule by let­ter’ is over,” she said. “Through in­tim­i­da­tion and co­er­cion, the failed sys­tem has clearly pushed schools to over­reach.”

At the same time, Mrs. DeVos stopped short of with­draw­ing the guid­ance, say­ing she wants to gather feed­back be­fore is­su­ing up­dated reg­u­la­tions.

Her com­ments had been highly an­tic­i­pated by uni­ver­si­ties and crit­ics who have ac­cused her of try­ing to roll back pro­tec­tions for stu­dents vic­tim­ized by sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment on cam­pus.

“Don’t be duped by to­day’s an­nounce­ment. What seems merely pro­ce­dural is a blunt at­tack on sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault. It will dis­cour­age schools from tak­ing steps to com­ply with the law — just at the mo­ment when they are fi­nally work­ing to get it right,” Fa­tima Goss Graves, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter, said in a state­ment.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gil­li­brand, New York Demo­crat, said the an­nounce­ment “be­trays our stu­dents, plain and sim­ple.”

“I don’t want to see an in­no­cent per­son pun­ished any more than I want to see a guilty per­son let off the hook, but Sec­re­tary DeVos has shown that she does not take the rights of sur­vivors se­ri­ously,” Ms. Gil­li­brand said in a state­ment.

Hans Bader, se­nior at­tor­ney at the free mar­ket Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, ap­plauded the move, say­ing Mrs. DeVos was “right to ques­tion the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­mands on col­leges.”

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion thumbed its nose at fed­eral court rul­ings in how it de­fined con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected speech as sex­ual ha­rass­ment,” Mr. Bader said. “And it pres­sured col­leges to vi­o­late state law and dis­card tra­di­tional safe­guards for wrongly ac­cused peo­ple.”

Oth­ers have ar­gued that the Oba­maera guid­ance has cre­ated a “witch hunt” at­mos­phere on cam­pus in which stu­dents ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault or ha­rass­ment are as­sumed guilty and de­nied ba­sic due process rights, such as be­ing af­forded rep­re­sen­ta­tion or hav­ing ac­cess to all the ev­i­dence against them.

The guid­ance also has come un­der fire for its pro­vi­sion re­quir­ing uni­ver­si­ties to use the lower “pre­pon­der­ance of the ev­i­dence” stan­dard in de­ter­min­ing the guilt of the ac­cused rather than the “beyond a rea­son­able doubt” stan­dard used in crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings.

“The right to ap­peal may or may not be avail­able to ei­ther party. And no one is per­mit­ted to talk about what went on be­hind closed doors,” said Mrs. DeVos. “It’s no won­der so many call th­ese pro­ceed­ings kan­ga­roo courts.”

Mrs. DeVos re­counted emo­tional ex­am­ples of stu­dents who were sus­pended or ex­pelled de­spite flimsy ev­i­dence against them, lead­ing at least one young man to at­tempt sui­cide af­ter be­ing kicked off cam­pus three weeks be­fore grad­u­a­tion with­out be­ing told why.

She also ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for vic­tims, point­ing to a stu­dent who was told to pros­e­cute her own case and declar­ing that “acts of sex­ual mis­con­duct are rep­re­hen­si­ble, dis­gust­ing and un­ac­cept­able.”

“We know this much to be true: One rape is one too many. One as­sault is one too many. One ag­gres­sive act of ha­rass­ment is one too many,” said Mrs. DeVos. “One per­son de­nied due process is one too many.”

Fam­i­lies Ad­vo­cat­ing for Cam­pus Equal­ity said that at least 73 stu­dents filed law­suits against their col­leges as of June 2015 claim­ing they were found guilty of sex­ual as­sault by cam­pus tri­bunals de­spite false ac­cu­sa­tions.

Crit­ics have ar­gued that uni­ver­si­ties are of­ten un­equipped to act as judge and jury in cases of sex­ual as­sault.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“The era of ‘rule by let­ter’ is over,” Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos said, an­nounc­ing her plans to re­view and re­place the way col­leges and univer­sity han­dle sex­ual as­sault in­ves­ti­ga­tions, which she said have un­til now as­sumed guilt rather than in­no­cence.

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