Education Secretary Betsey DeVos plans to rewrite campus sexual assault rules

Photo courtesy of nbcnews.com ||  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. on September 7. 

Photo courtesy of nbcnews.com || Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. on September 7. 

KATHERINE HAZEN ‘18 and SUNNIE YI NING ‘18
EDITOR-IN-CHEIF AND NEWS EDITOR

Last Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the department would rewrite campus sexual assault rules in a speech at George Mason University. Though DeVos did not divulge much of the policy changes her administration aimed to achieve, she made it clear she thought her predecessor had gone too far in protecting victims, often at the expense of the due process of accused students. 

“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” she said last Thursday to a student chapter of the Federalist Society, according to reporting by The New York Times. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”

DeVos said she believed both accused students and victims are not adequately served by the quasi-judicial system currently in place. “Survivors aren’t well served when they are re-traumatized with appeal after appeal because the failed system failed the accused. And no student should be forced to sue their way to due process,” she said. 

DeVos signaled earlier this summer she would make a move on this by taking meetings with both groups representing accused students and groups representing victims such as End Rape on Campus, SurvJustice and so on.

Any move DeVos makes would either radically change or entirely rescind the 2011 guidance from the Department of Education, which demanded a more vigilant response to sexual assault accusations on college campuses under the Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Under this guidance, colleges could lose federal funding if they do not comply. 

While DeVos did not give much detail in her speech, she hinted at proposals conservative lawyers have vouched for since 2011, such as giving the power to investigate and adjudicate cases of sexual misconduct to independent regional centers, in addition to raising the standard of proof from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing.”

A period of public comment on the matter is open, a standard procedure before agencies release new guidelines. 

Advocates and universities were quick to respond. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement, “This administration wants to take us back to the days when colleges swept sexual assault under the rug. Instead of building on important work to pursue justice, they are once again choosing politics over students, and students will pay the price.”

According to the Yale Daily News, Deputy Provost for Health Affairs and Academic Integrity Stephanie Spangler sent an email to the Yale student body shortly after DeVos’s address in Virginia, reiterating the university’s commitment to taking accusations of misconduct seriously and fairly. 

Interim Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Katherine Rowe told The Sophian in an email, “We are closely monitoring the situation, which is still very unclear. Smith takes the College’s obligations under Title IX very seriously. We remain firmly committed to our policies and the principles of non-discrimination and due process that underlie them.”