Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Thursday announced the Trump administration will reconsider guidelines issued under former president Barack Obama over how colleges and universities must handle allegations of sexual assault.
In a speech, DeVos said the current rules, which require universities that receive federal funding to investigate and adjudicate allegations of sexual assault involving students, sometimes fail to protect victims. She said the definition of sexual assault is too broad and has led to overzealous prosecutions.
"Any perceived offense can become a full-blown Title IX investigation," DeVos said. "But if everything is harassment, then nothing is."
She also said that sometimes students accused of sexual misconduct are denied due process, and said under the current approach, "everyone loses."
Obama, concerned about an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, used the federal Department of Education to require schools to investigate and adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct. The department used Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that bars anyone from being discriminated against on the basis of sex, as the legal justification for the guidelines.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Beyond raising concerns about the Obama-era rules, many of which had been aired by critics before, DeVos did not detail what the Trump administration believes to be a solution to this problem. DeVos noted in her speech that groups like the American Bar Association, the American College of Trial Lawyers and former prosecutors had proposed reforms (one is a series of regional centers with sexual assault experts who can handle cases for nearby schools, instead of administrators with no training in the subject). But the education secretary did not say whether she thought these ideas were good or bad.
Instead, DeVos said her office is seeking advice from school administrators, legal experts and the public for how to move forward. She did not set a timeline for when the Trump administration intends to install new guidelines.
Changes to the rules could have huge ramifications for Texas schools. Baylor University remains under the close eye of the Department of Education after a widespread sexual assault scandal at the school that included members of the football team, and which forced many officials, including Baylor's president, athletic director and head football coach, to leave their jobs. The Title IX coordinator assigned to Baylor grew so frustrated with the school's administration that she quit.
Two men who attended Texas A&M and the University of Texas have sued their schools, claiming they were denied due process, as the Houston Chronicle has reported.