In a recent speech at George Mason University, Department of Education Secretary Betsey DeVos announced the agency is preparing to change government guidelines for campus sexual assault under Title IX to tilt the scales more in the favor of accused parties. The alleged main target of reforms is Obama-era guidelines issued by the Department of Education, known as the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter.
Throughout the speech, she detailed the reasons behind the impending changes and included numerous anecdotes that were supposed to show why this intervention is necessary. However, according to an attorney who wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, numerous examples used by DeVos happened before the so-called “failed” guidelines were even issued by the Obama administration's Dear Colleague Letter.
Throughout the speech, Ms. DeVos referred to a “failed system,” which presumably is a reference to the 2011 letter. It bears noting that many of the complaints filed by alleged victims of sexual misconduct predated the letter, and the rest seemingly complained that their schools had failed to adhere to the dictates of that document.
Ms. DeVos is apparently referring to a 2015 lawsuit involving Stony Brook University, a campus of the State University of New York, and allegations made by a former student. It is worth noting that Stony Brook has denied those allegations. In addition, the policies in place at the time of the incident were revamped more than three years ago.
Note that the increased visibility—and enforcement—around campus sexual assault has led to rapid changes at schools across the country. This means that not only did some anecdotes happen before 2011, but others are also outdated because the university procedures and policies have long changed.
Unfortunately, DeVos’ meetings with men’s rights activists and folks who claim they were falsely accused of sexual violence seem to have had a disproportionate impact on the Department's views on Title IX. Her refusal to commit to supporting survivors during her confirmation hearing makes it unsurprising that her talking points seem to say that scales have been tipped too far in survivors’ favor. If that is true, then that’s a problem with an individual school’s enforcement—not the 2011 guidelines.
Pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act’s amendments to the Clery Act, both the accuser and the accused in institutional disciplinary proceedings are legally entitled to an adviser of choice and institutions are prohibited from barring lawyers from serving as advisers.
Institutions are legally required to provide for a “prompt, fair, and impartial investigation and resolution.”
In its 2014 “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,” the department’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, also noted that “in all cases, a school’s Title IX investigation must be adequate, reliable, impartial, and prompt, and include the opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence.”
Nothing has officially changed as of this writing, but concerns over harmful and unnecessary changes through a complete or partial rescind of the former administration’s guidelines are not overreactions. If her evidence for changing a so-called “failed system” doesn't even apply anymore, it’s hard to understand the logic why she wants to make accountability for campus assailants harder.
Originally written for Daily Kos.