U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued new interim guidelines Friday that reverse Obama administration policies regarding sexual assault on college campuses.
DeVos said under the new guidelines, colleges may use a higher, “clear and convincing” standard of evidence before finding a student guilty of sexual assault. The changes roll back policies implemented by President Obama, which required a lower “preponderance of evidence” standard.
Under the Obama administration’s standard, a student could be found guilty of sexual misconduct if 50 percent or more of the evidence proved guilt. The administration also threatened to withhold a student’s federal financial aid funding if universities did not follow the guidelines.
The Department of Education is also terminating the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the 2014 Questions and Answers (Q&A) on Title IX and Sexual Violence, which outlined the “preponderance of evidence” standard.
The department issued a new Q&A which emphasizes that the same rights and information must be provided to both parties in a Title IX investigation. The new statement maintains the Obama administration’s policy that campuses can use mediation to handle Title IX cases instead of adjudicating them.
DeVos said earlier this month that the Department of Education planned to roll back Obama-era policies and said the policies denied students accused of sexual misconduct their right to due process.
The Nexus reported Thursday that UC Santa Barbara concealed evidence in September 2016 from a student accused of sexual violence. The student’s lawyer submitted a complaint in July alleging that the university violated the student’s right to due process.
In a March court ruling, Judge Thomas Anderle ruled that the university took too long to investigate the student’s case, the Nexus reported in April, failing to conclude the Title IX investigation within the 60 calendar day deadline federally required for Title IX investigations and the 60 business day deadline required by the university.
The student was suspended for the duration of his first year at UCSB while the university carried out the Title IX investigation. The investigation is still ongoing, and the university has not placed charges on the student or interviewed any key witnesses.
UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement Friday she is “deeply worried” the new rules will weaken sexual violence protections and “unravel” the progress universities have made to ensure fair procedures for survivors of sexual assault and those accused.
UC systemwide Title IX coordinator Kathleen Salvaty also expressed concern about the new policies in a letter to UC Title IX officers on Friday and reaffirmed the University’s commitment to Obama’s standard policy and the UC’s systemwide policies.
“Our community members have the right to be free of sexual violence and sexual harassment,” Salvaty said. “It is our job to ensure they not only understand this but feel comfortable exercising that right and [are] confident in our processes.”
The interim guidelines will remain in effect until the Department of Education receives public comment on a permanent set of rules in the coming months.
Colleges can maintain the former policies if they choose and DeVos’s new guidelines will remain optional until the permanent guidelines are instated.
Update: This article was updated to include information about an ongoing Title IX investigation at UC Santa Barbara.