Sexual assault: New campus rules
It’s a victory “for basic due process and fairness,” said David French in NationalReview.com. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last week proposed new regulations for how colleges and schools handle accusations of sexual harassment and assault under federal Title IX. Under the old, Obama-era guidelines, the accused often got railroaded in what amounted to a “kangaroo court” run by a single school administrator serving as both prosecutor and judge. DeVos’ reforms will restore the constitutional rights of the accused. They’ll get to cross-examine their accusers and witnesses, albeit from a separate room and through a third party, like a lawyer. They’ll be guaranteed a chance to see the evidence, as well as appeal decisions to suspend or expel them from school. Sexual harassment will also be more “narrowly” defined as conduct that’s “severe” and “objectively offensive” rather than merely “unwelcome.” But the rules “aren’t yet set in stone,” said Anna North in Vox.com. There’s a 60-day public comment period before they assume the force of law, and women’s advocates vow to fight.
DeVos is trying to “silence abuse victims,” said Amanda Marcotte in Salon.com. What other conclusion is there to draw, given that “the proposed rules appear to be focused mostly on throwing up obstacles to reporting” abuse? Victims must now “work up the nerve” to report an incident to a campus Title IX official “rather than trusted professors or student leaders.” The level of evidence needed to prove an attack has been raised from a civil standard to a criminal one, and off-campus incidents will no longer be reportable. This is problematic, given that many college sexual assaults happen at bars and off-campus parties.
The Obama-era rules clearly needed reform, but these new rules still contain a “fundamental flaw,” said Erin Dunne in WashingtonExaminer.com. Colleges shouldn’t be in the business of adjudicating serious allegations of sexual assault and rape, which should be handled by police, courts, and trained lawyers. In judging these allegations, universities “have clear conflicts of interest based on their reputation, donations, and pressure from activists.” And even under the reforms, the accused is still deprived of many of the rights Americans take for granted in regular criminal or civil trials. “At their best, campus proceedings are a poor imitation of American justice”—one that creates “a separate legal universe that only applies to college students.”