U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says her administration will rewrite the rules related to policing campus sexual assault in an effort to protect both victims and the accused.
The New York Times reports that DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a speech at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., she made clear that she believed the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights.
“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” she said. “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.”
Advocates for assault victims reacted strongly and swiftly. The National Women’s Law Center saysDeVos’s plan to issue new rules to colleges was “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,” the group says. “And it sends a frightening message to all students: Your government does not have your back if your rights are violated.”
DeVos’s remarks echoed complaints by conservatives and lawyers for accused students that colleges have been punishing students unfairly.
In recent years, campuses across the nation have been roiled by high-profile sexual assault cases. A scandal involving the Baylor University football team ultimately led to the removal of the school’s president and its football coach.
DeVos says she believes victims are ill-served by a quasi-judicial process that lacks the sophistication required for such sensitive matters. But her remarks focused more heavily on the young men who, she says, have been denied due process in campus proceedings, sometimes attempting suicide.
Any move would be aimed at revising or rescinding a 2011 guidance letter from the Education Department to college officials. The letter required a tougher response to campus sexual-assault accusations under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and it warned the colleges that federal funding would be at risk if they did not comply.
Here are excerpts of the DeVos speech, posted on the Education Department website.