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September 22 2017

Betsy DeVos Ends Obama-Era Policies on School Sexual Assault

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era rules on how colleges and universities should handle cases of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. This is a win for the rights of students, which had been undermined by the previous education department.

The agency withdrew a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that forced colleges to take on investigation and prosecution of serious allegations on their campuses. It also rescinded a list of Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence.

This is explained in a memo:

“The 2011 and 2014 guidance documents may have been well-intentioned, but those documents have led to the deprivation of rights for many students—both accused students denied fair process and victims denied an adequate resolution of their complaints.  The guidance has not succeeded in providing clarity for educational institutions or in leading institutions to guarantee educational opportunities on the equal basis that Title IX requires.  Instead, schools face a confusing and counterproductive set of regulatory mandates, and the objective of regulatory compliance has displaced Title IX’s goal of educational equity.

The agency has released interim guidance which give schools greater flexibility and restores rights to the accused.

Schools can now choose between two standards of proof by which to assess cases: “clear and convincing evidence” which was the pre-2011 standard or a “preponderance of the evidence” the lesser standard mandated by the 2011 guidelines.  

Colleges can now also employ mediation in sexual assault cases if both sides agree to it.

Students accused of sexual assault will now have greater access to evidence and the identity of accusers must be revealed before they are questioned.

Senior officials think this will restore some balance The Hill reports:

“The department’s interim guidance emphasizes the important of fairness and impartiality in campus proceedings while relying heavily on prior guidance from [the Office for Civil Rights] dating back to 2001,” the official said.

One senior department official said previous guidelines were “deeply flawed substantively and procedurally” and couldn’t be left in place while new guidelines are drafted.

As we’ve written, combatting sexual misconduct on campus is a serious and important issue. Young women and men should not feel intimidated or be discouraged from reporting sexual assaults. Perpetrators should face sure punishment for their wrongdoing. However, Washington rules should not force colleges to trample over the rights of the accusedin the pursuit of justice.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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