United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her intent Thursday to review guidelines under Title IX dealing with sexual assault in schools and universities, stating that current guidelines deny due process to students accused of sexual misconduct.
Under former president Barack Obama’s administration, the Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, released a memo in April 2011 called a “Dear Colleague” letter, expanding Title IX guidelines for universities on how to handle sexual assault allegations. Title IX is an anti-discrimination law stating that no one can be excluded from any federally funded educational program on the basis of sex.
The letter also stipulated that any school that fails to follow the guidelines for investigating sexual misconduct allegations may face decreased federal funding. A new “preponderance of the evidence” standard was also introduced in the letter, which lowered the standard of proof required for sexual misconduct allegations.
On Thursday, however, DeVos stated that the guidelines enforced by the “Dear Colleague” letter lack “basic safeguards” necessary to protect the accused.
DeVos went on to call current campus sexual assault protections a “failed system” imposed by political letter, and vowed to revise current guidelines to ensure fairness for both the survivors and individuals accused of sexual misconduct.
“The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the ‘victim’ only creates more victims,” DeVos said in her speech. “The era of ‘rule by letter’ is over.”
In response to DeVos’ speech, several members of campus administration released a statement condemning DeVos’ plans to revoke Title IX guidelines. Chancellor Carol Christ, who was the campus’s Title IX coordinator from 1983 to 1984, reaffirmed her support for the expanded sexual misconduct guidelines.
UC President Janet Napolitano called DeVos’ call for change “extremely troubling.”
“Even in the midst of unwelcome change and uncertainty, the university’s commitment to a learning environment free of sexual violence and sexual harassment will not waver,” Napolitano said in a statement.
ASUC president chief of staff Marandah Field-Elliot said the campus currently operates under the preponderance of the evidence standard when dealing with sexual assault allegations. Even if guidelines under Title IX were revised, she added, “any department of education isn’t going to inherently change that.”
“The whole issue is very frustrating, especially if you’re a campus activist,” Field-Elliot said. “We like to think that issues are moving towards progress, so it’s frustrating to feel like a huge national power is taking a step backward.”
According to UC Title IX coordinator Kathleen Salvaty, the “Dear Colleague” letter didn’t create many new obligations, but it acted to remind universities of their “obligation to protect students.” Salvaty added that if the guidelines imposed by the “Dear Colleague” letter were revoked, students on campus would not be greatly affected, as UC practices would not change unless federal legislation required them to.
“From our perspective, we’re doing what we’re doing because it’s what we’re obligated to do and it’s morally correct,” Salvaty said. “Those obligations existed before 2011 and they will exist after. That’s a right under Title IX.”