DeVos’ plan scales back rules in cam­pus as­saults

Over­haul pro­posal adds pro­tec­tion for ac­cused stu­dents

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Collin Bink­ley As­so­ci­ated Press

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos on Fri­day pro­posed a ma­jor over­haul to the way col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties han­dle sex­ual mis­con­duct com­plaints, adding pro­tec­tions for stu­dents ac­cused of as­sault and ha­rass­ment and nar­row­ing which cases schools would be re­quired to in­ves­ti­gate.

Her plan would scale back im­por­tant Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rules while adding man­dates that could re­shape the cam­pus dis­ci­plinary sys­tems that schools have de­vel­oped over the past decade.

Un­der the new plan, col­leges would have to in­ves­ti­gate com­plaints only if the al­leged in­ci­dent oc­curred on cam­pus or in other ar­eas over­seen by the school, and only if it was re­ported to cer­tain of­fi­cials. By con­trast, cur­rent rules re­quire col­leges to in­ves­ti­gate all stu­dent com­plaints, re­gard­less of their lo­ca­tion or how they came to the school’s at­ten­tion.

It adds sev­eral pro­vi­sions sup­ported by groups that rep­re­sent stu­dents ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct. Chief among them, it says ac­cused stu­dents must be able to cross-ex­am­ine their ac­cusers, al­though it would be done through a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to avoid per­sonal con­fronta­tions.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment says the pro­posal en­sures fair­ness for stu­dents on both sides of ac­cu­sa­tions, while of­fer­ing schools greater flex­i­bil­ity to help vic­tims even if they don’t file a for­mal com­plaint or re­quest an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We can, and must, con­demn sex­ual vi­o­lence and pun­ish those who per­pe­trate it, while en­sur­ing a fair griev­ance process,” DeVos said in a state­ment. “Those are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive ideas. They are the very essence of how Amer­i­cans un­der­stand jus­tice to func­tion.”

The pro­posal ef­fec­tively would tell schools how to ap­ply the 1972 law known as Ti­tle IX, which bars dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex in schools that re­ceive fed­eral money.

For years, schools have re­lied on a se­ries of let­ters is­sued by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­struct­ing them how to re­spond to com­plaints. Mis­steps could bring fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions that often last years, with penal­ties as high as a to­tal loss of fed­eral fund­ing.

Ad­vo­cacy groups for vic­tims say the Obama rules forced schools to stop sweep­ing the is­sue un­der the rug, while those sup­port­ing ac­cused stu­dents said it tipped the scales in fa­vor of ac­cusers. Some col­leges com­plained that the rules were too com­plex and could be overly bur­den­some.

DeVos echoed the rules’ crit­ics when she re­scinded a guid­ance let­ter in Septem­ber 2017, declar­ing that “the era ofru`le by let­ter“’ was over. In its place, she is­sued the 150-page pro­posal on Fri­day, which will go through a 60-day pub­lic com­ment process be­fore it can be fi­nal­ized.

It’s un­clear how deeply the pro­posal would change poli­cies on cam­puses. The As­so­ci­a­tion of Pub­lic and Land-grant Uni­ver­si­ties, which rep­re­sents 238 pub­lic re­search uni­ver­si­ties, says it be­lieves schools will con­tinue to “far ex­ceed” the min­i­mum that’s re­quired in Ti­tle IX rules.

Some other uni­ver­si­ties is­sued state­ments say­ing they re­main com­mit­ted to pre­vent­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence re­gard­less of any changes, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin and Yale Univer­sity.

Cather­ine Lha­mon, who led the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment’s civil rights divi­sion un­der Obama and helped de­velop the ex­ist­ing rules, said the new pro­posal would take schools back to a “a very dark time.”

Vir­ginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Demo­crat on the House Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force Com­mit­tee, urged DeVos to scrap the pro­posal, which he called “a dam­ag­ing set­back for our ef­forts to pre­vent cam­pus sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault.”

Other op­po­nents said they fear fewer vic­tims would re­port as­saults un­der the new rules, and that more would drop out.

But sup­port­ers say the pro­posal does a bet­ter job pro­vid­ing equal treat­ment to all stu­dents. They praised rules say­ing that both sides must be able to re­view ev­i­dence col­lected by the school, and that both sides would be al­lowed to bring a lawyer or other ad­viser to cam­pus hear­ings.

Among other changes, the pro­posal nar­rows what con­sti­tutes sex­ual ha­rass­ment. While the 2011 guid­ance de­fined it as “un­wel­come con­duct of a sex­ual na­ture,” the new pro­posal de­fines it as un­wel­come sex­ual con­duct that’s so se­vere it ef­fec­tively de­nies the vic­tim ac­cess to the school or its pro­grams.

MATT ROURKE/AP

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos fa­vors the over­haul.

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