DeVos moves the pendulum on how colleges deal with sexual assault

DeVos moves the pendulum on how colleges deal with sexual assault

November 5, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


JUDY WOODRUFF: The Trump administration today
proposed new rules on how colleges must investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment
and assault. As Amna Nawaz explains, guidelines enacted
by the Obama administration that expanded protection for victims and accusers were already
rescinded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Now she’s laid out new standards. AMNA NAWAZ: It’s a dramatic change in many
ways, one that DeVos says balances the rights of the accused, and that some colleges say
is overdue. Some women’s groups argue it’s a major rollback. Among the changes: The rules narrows the definition
of sexual harassment to conduct that is severe, pervasive and objectively offensive. The prior guidelines defined it as unwelcome
conduct of a sexual nature. Accused students could bring lawyers to misconduct
hearings and would have the right to cross-examine, although the parties could not question each
other directly. It also gives schools more flexibility, and
limits the number of cases they have to investigate. DeVos said the proposed rules are grounded
in the principles of due process. Scott Jaschik is the editor of Inside Higher
Ed, and he joins me now. Welcome to the “NewsHour.” SCOTT JASCHIK, Inside Higher Education: Thanks. AMNA NAWAZ: So, I want to ask you about one
of those things, the school’s responsibility, first. Vice President Biden, former vice president,
issued a statement in response to the new rules today. He did say this: “Today’s proposed rollback
would return us to the days when schools swept rape and assault under the rug and survivors
were shamed into silence.” There were changes in terms of how school
should respond, when they have the responsibility to respond. What’s different with the new rules? SCOTT JASCHIK: So, with the new rules, you
have different measures of guilt, different measures of what is covered by the rules,
and different rights for the accused. But I think there’s a key point here, which
is that, prior to the Obama administration, there were in fact case after case, decades,
many would say, in which women who brought such accusations were ignored, particularly
if the cases involved athletes or powerful individuals. That doesn’t mean that Obama got it right
or that DeVos is getting it right or wrong. But there have been problems with this issue
for a long time. And for much of the time, it was the people
bringing charges who were ignored or mistreated. AMNA NAWAZ: So, in this case, specifically
when it comes to school responsibility, for example, is it fair to say that it limits
the number of cases they actually have responsibility to investigate? SCOTT JASCHIK: Yes, although it’s unclear
exactly how this will play out. But the new rules would say that it has to
be sort of a direct college program. Now, some fear this would eliminate any complaints
about off-campus conduct. The rules issued today make a point that it’s
not just geography, but there are a number — was that — the definition of sexual harassment
that you mentioned. All of these things mean fewer cases would
actually go forward. AMNA NAWAZ: That definition change, too, a
lot of people are wondering, were there are a lot of frivolous claims brought before under
that broader definition that necessitated more specific language? SCOTT JASCHIK: I would question that, because,
frankly, any woman who brings a complaint is subject to a lot of time, energy and may
be mocked and not believed. I don’t think people bring complaints just
for the hell of it. This is a difficult thing for women to do. AMNA NAWAZ: Also, getting to the point of
cross-examination, which has caught a lot of people’s attention, what are people saying
about what the impact be of a new rule like that in terms of people’s willingness to come
forward? SCOTT JASCHIK: Well, that’s the thing. A lot of these cases, the women are choosing
to go to campus, as opposed to the police, because they want a speedier, more supportive
process than they might get from the judicial system. And cross-examination for a victim of sexual
assault can be very traumatic, and it can be discouraging. And what people are pointing out is, these
are not, in fact, criminal proceedings. AMNA NAWAZ: Well, the administration will
say, look, we are adding rules and guidelines because they weren’t that specific before. And when you have reliable outcomes, that
will make people more willing to engage and come forward. What’s been the response to that? SCOTT JASCHIK: I’m not sure most people agree
with that. I think some people who are cheering these
new regulations would be content with fewer cases coming forward. The reality is, there’s also a broader discussion
going on. Under the Obama administration, Vice President
Biden, President Obama, others were speaking out, saying, this is a problem that women
are being sexually assaulted, come forward, we will support you, campuses need to do more. They’re hearing a very different message today. AMNA NAWAZ: That due process messages is at
the heart of a lot of this, though. And it is true that previous guidelines were
pretty broad. There were some complaints about that. These new guidelines, they say, are rooted
in Supreme Court precedent. There’s an argument to be made for that, too. SCOTT JASCHIK: It’s also true that colleges
have messed up on due process in a number of cases. I don’t think you can say due process isn’t
an issue. The question is, can you have due process
in ways that also encourage victims to come forward? And I don’t know that needs to be an either/or. I also think that, again, it’s the general
tenor. Are people encouraging people to come forward? Are people saying there is a real problem
with sexual assault on campus, which I think there’s substantial evidence that there is? AMNA NAWAZ: Very quickly, do you feel that
this tips the balance in favor of one side over the moving forward in these cases? SCOTT JASCHIK: It certainly is a pendulum
swing away from support for those bringing charges toward the other side. But I would also point out, in this issue,
I think there’s going to be uncertainty, cases that are disputed. I don’t think, under the Obama guidelines
or under these, you had any sure thing of clarity in what would happen. AMNA NAWAZ: Scott Jaschik, thank you for your
time. SCOTT JASCHIK: Thank you.