Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is in the process of writing new rules to expand protections for both students and staff who have been accused of sexual misconduct while protecting the schools and colleges where they work or attend classes. Types of sexual misconduct covered by the proposed new rules include sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape.
“The proposed rules,” The New York Times reports, “narrow the legal definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses. They would also establish a higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly addressed complaints.”
The Times obtained a copy of the proposed rules, which will make it harder for victims to obtain legal recourse. They redefine sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”
Under these rules institutions of higher learning will only have to investigate claims of misconduct that took place on their campuses. The schools would be required to launch investigations that provide “prompt and equitable” resolutions of the sexual harassment or assault claims.
Also, the investigations would begin “under the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty,” the Times reported. The Education Secretary’s new rules would literally allow an accused rapist to cross examine his or her alleged victim. In addition, the new rules “will have the force of law and can go into force without an act of Congress, after a public comment period.”
Last fall, DeVos announced she was rescinding the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance on sexual assault on campus, saying it was not fair to students accused of misconduct. She said that the prior policies resulted in too many students being falsely charged or disciplined.
Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill declined to discuss the proposed recommendations.
“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment,” Hill said.
The report was published on the same day that officials said a former University of Southern California (USC) gynecologist, George Tyndall, had agreed to a suspension of his medical license. Tyndall was accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of students at USC.
The Education Department is investigating how USC handled that case after the university admitted they failed to properly act on eight complaints lodged against Tyndall between 2000 and 2014.