Education Dept. unveils controversial sexual misconduct rules

The Department of Education on Friday proposed new rules for dealing with sexual harassment and assault on college campuses that would bolster the rights of those accused of wrongdoing.

The proposed rules, which now face a public comment period of 60 days before they are enshrined, seek to narrow the definition of sexual misconduct on campuses at a time of national reckoning about sexual abuse.

“Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.”

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It’s On Us executive director Tracey Vitchers said the results of the proposed rules “would be devastating.”

“The proposed rule changes to Title IX put forward today for public comment by the Department of Education once again demonstrate that Secretary DeVos and her team lack basic empathy for survivors and do not care about campus safety,” Vitchers said in a statement.

However, others applauded the department’s move, saying it took the rights of both parties seriously.

Samantha Harris, a vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the proposed regulations “make important strides toward ensuring that complaints of sexual misconduct will be neither ignored nor prejudged” and eliminate confusion that has led to “broad definitions of sexual harassment that threaten student and faculty speech” on campuses.

Last year, DeVos announced the department was rescinding Obama-era guidance that pressed colleges to take accusations of sexual misconduct more seriously and provided guidelines for investigations and hearings. DeVos argued the older guidance denied proper due process to individuals who had been accused.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students. 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,” DeVos said during a speech in September 2017, when she announced the department would be reviewing the policy.

In her statement on Friday, DeVos echoed that sentiment: “We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.”