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Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, plans to reverse a crucial part of government policy regarding sexual assault on campus. Her goal is to give colleges the freedom to balance rights of the accused while also maintaining punishment for serious misconduct. In order to do this, two sets of guidelines have to be abolished. These are currently the most controversial topics in higher education. DeVos’ side claims there are altercations with the Obama administration attempting to make sexual assault more of a priority and possibly making an unjust situation for the accused.
The Department of Education is now stating that colleges can get rid of “preponderance of the evidence” and change it to a higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence” when determining whether a student is a perpetrator of sexual assault. The change is meant to bring back “basic elements of fairness” which were apparently lacking in the Obama-era rules.
This shift in regulation has been sought after by advocates for accused students, most of which being men, that complained of heavy bias in aid for female accusers.
Activating these rules could occur after the public comment period that could take at least several months. In the meantime, colleges can opt for the lower standard of proof. This means less evidence is needed to persecute the accused of sexual assault. There was no telling of whether colleges will be forced to use the higher standard if it is approved.
Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system and a Homeland Security secretary in the Obama administration, believes this turnaround will ultimately weaken school sexual violence protection and reverse the immense progress that has taken place recently.
The president of National Women’s Law Center, Fatima Goss Graves, said the announcement would have a “devastating” impact on schools and students. She also thinks that this will prevent students from reporting assaults and cause confusion in regards to policy for the administration.
In recent years, colleges have spent millions to hire and train professionals such as investigators and counselors to establish sexual assault prevention training for students. Contrary to previous statements, DeVos says these will likely stay in place and colleges should not let their guard down.