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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

DeVos: Feds will revise sex assault policy

Federal directives on campus sexual assault by a “weaponized” Office of Civil Rights have failed students, said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today in a speech at George Mason University. “The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the “victim” only creates more victims.”

The Obama Education Department used “intimidation and coercion” to push schools to enforce federal policies in its April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, DeVos said.”Rule by letter” is over, she vowed. The Education Department will seek feedback on how best to design a “workable, effective and fair system” that protects victims of sexual misconduct and the accused.

No doubt she’ll be accused of being pro-rape.

Colleges have been pushed to “investigate, adjudicate, and punish . . . murky, ambiguous sexual encounters,” writes Emily Yoffe in The Atlantic. “The definition of sexual misconduct on many campuses has expanded beyond reason.”

In a University of Massachusetts case, the “victim” described agreeing to sex to be a “good sport,” then regretting it. The male student was kicked off campus. By the time he was cleared of sexual misconduct, but suspended for violating the university’s gag rule, he’d dropped out. He enrolled elsewhere and will complete an engineering degree — two years late.

Due process is under attack, writes Soave. A Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) report found that “three-quarters of America’s elite universities do not guarantee students the presumption of innocence in sexual misconduct proceedings.”

Many civil libertarians of assorted stripes now believe that the Obama-era federal guidance relating to Title IX has stripped students of their due process rights while chilling freedom of expression. Several law professors at Harvard University just released a joint statement asking the Education Department to revisit the guidance. “Now is the time to build in respect for fairness and due process, academic freedom, and sexual autonomy,” wrote Harvard’s Janet Halley.

Laura Dunn, a lawyer and advocate for sexual assault victims, defended denying constitutional rights to the accused in a letter to Inside Higher Ed. “A presumption of innocence advantages the accused only, and Title IX requires equity,” Dunn argued.

The presumption of innocence is a basic part of our legal system, responds Soave. It’s not chopped liver.

It’s time to rethink federal regulation of sexual conduct, writes R. Shep Melnick, a politics professor at Boston College and author of a forthcoming book, The Transformation of Title IX: Regulating Gender Equality in Education.

OCR “has evaded standard rule-making procedures designed to collect evidence and encourage public participation; ignored the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Title IX; pressured schools to adopt disciplinary proceedings that deny due process to the accused; insisted upon a definition of sexual harassment so broad that it threatens free speech on campus; and created within colleges units dedicated to reeducating students on all matters sexual and on the dictates of ‘social justice’,” he writes. “To claim that any criticism of this heavy-handed regulation is designed to make colleges ‘safe for rapists’ is to engage in a most reckless form of demagoguery.”

Sexual harassment charges can be used to silence a male professor who disagrees with a female professor, writes J. Martin Rochester, who teaches political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He was cleared for lack of evidence — but the Title IX office forgot to tell him for three months.

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