Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is preparing new policies that would bolster the rights of students accused of sexual misconduct on campus, according to multiple reports Thursday.
The proposed rules, which were obtained by the New York Times and the Washington Post, would provide more support to college students who are accused of sexual misconduct, and would narrow the definition of sexual harassment.
Under DeVos' proposed rules, schools would have to handle harassment cases only if formal complaints are submitted, and universities would only be responsible for investigating sexual misconduct that took place specifically on their campuses or in their programs. That means incidents that occurred off-campus but involved only students, like the case of Stanford student Brock Turner, who was convicted of raping a woman behind a dumpster that was technically located off-campus, would not be included. And other campus-related groups, like fraternities and other clubs that are located off-campus, would no longer be included in the proposed guidelines.
DeVos’ new rules would also narrow the definition of what constitutes harassment on campus, reduce liability for colleges, and encourage schools to provide more institutional support for victims of sexual misconduct, according to the Times. It would also require that schools approach all investigations under the presumption that students accused of sexual misconduct are innocent until they are proven guilty, something the Obama-era rules did not require.
The news comes about a year after DeVos announced she would be rescinding an Obama-era Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault, in which college administrators were instructed to decide if someone was more than 50 percent guilty of misconduct, a standard far lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of criminal courts. Some in opposition to the Title IX guidance said it deprived accused rapists of “due process,” a sentiment DeVos echoed in 2017, saying she felt the guidance was unfair toward students accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, she placed 2001 temporary guidelines on colleges while the Department of Education discussed their next steps.
“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said in September 2017. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”
It would also have the force of law backing it up, something the Obama-era rules did not, the Times reported. It would preserve quite a bit of Title IX, but would go beyond guidance and recommendation for the first time, to “codify how it defines sexual harassment in the nation’s schools and the steps institutions are legally required to take to address it,” the Times reported.
U.S. Department of Education Press Secretary Liz Hill told VICE News in a statement that the documents the Times says they have are “premature and speculative.”
“We are in the midst of a deliberative process,” Hill said. “Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.”
Cover image: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 16, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images)