Betsy DeVos Moves to End Obama's Guidelines for Campus Sexual Assault Investigations

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Emily Yoffe of The Atlantic argues that numerous remedies in Title IX that have been pushed on campuses in recent years "are unjust to men, infantilize women, and ultimately undermine the legitimacy of the fight against sexual violence".

People in the education policy world are closely watching what the administration will do with a 2011 directive, called a Dear Colleague letter, issued by the Education Department that prescribed what schools must do when a student reports a sexual assault.

DeVos said that she and her team are making the Title IX changes after studying public feedback.

During a speech at George Mason University, DeVos announced plans to review and overhaul the way colleges and universities handle investigations.

DeVos said the department will launch a so-called notice and comment process to develop a new approach.

"Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach", DeVos said. "One person denied due process is one too many", DeVos said Thursday. "Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined".

In front of an audience at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, DeVos announced that the White House will be placing more of an emphasis on due process when it comes sexual assault allegations on college campuses.

"I think it's a very positive sign", says Andrew Miltenberg, a lawyer who by his count has represented more than 150 accused students.

Democrats and women's rights groups swiftly condemned DeVos' remarks.

DeVos thanked her predecessors for bringing the issue of campus sexual assault to light but said "good intentions alone are not enough".

DeVos is "valuing the rights of the perpetrator over that of the survivor", said Annie Clark, 28, of Raleigh, North Carolina, the executive director of End Rape on Campus. "This attempt to weaken Title IX's protections is simply shameful". Federal officials have described Thursday's event to school officials as focused on Title IX policy "centered around equal opportunity and equal protection for all".

But survivors of sexual assault and their advocates have long feared what would happen when DeVos took the reins.

DeVos has met with several groups that advocate for the rights of accused rapists, including two men from Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), who say they were falsely accused of sexual assault. At the same time, she points out, surveys consistently show that more than one in five female college students is a victim of sexual misconduct, most of which is never investigated or punished.

In 2011, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published a 19-page "dear colleague" letter stating that sexual violence falls under sexual harassment, which in an education setting is covered by Title IX. While the Obama-era directives were not ideal, they helped elevate the voices of survivors that perviously went ignored, and served as an initial reform on handling sexual assault cases across the country.

Instead, DeVos criticized existing definitions of harassment and assault as too "broad" and claimed that "any perceived offense" can lead to a Title IX investigation.

"No student should feel like there isn't a way to seek justice, and no student should feel that the scales are tipped against him or her", she told reporters in July.