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Op-Ed: In Title IX meetings, DeVos seeking fairness for all concerned

BEFORE deciding whether to change an Obama-era directive regarding the handling of sexual assault cases on college campuses, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met recently with students who said they had been victims of such assaults.

DeVos also met with others who said their schools had found them guilty of sexual assaults that they didn't commit. For this she was skewered by some on the left who believe the system in place the past several years works fine.

The latter meetings were “a slap in the face of the victims of campus sexual assault,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn. U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., said in a tweet that DeVos “should be a champion for survivors of sexual assault, not their assaulters.” Another congresswoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said DeVos was trying to weaken Title IX protections for those who have been sexually assaulted.

These complaints are bogus. DeVos was simply trying to weigh all sides of this issue, and should be applauded for doing so.

In 2011, the Obama administration's Office for Civil Rights sent universities “Dear Colleague” letters saying that to comply with Title IX rules, punishment for students accused of sexual assault should be based on a “preponderance of evidence” instead of the more rigorous standard of “clear and convincing evidence.”

The OCR also discouraged cross-examination, saying it could traumatize or intimidate alleged victims. Consequently, the accused in these cases often don't have the right to confront their accuser and they often don't have an attorney to assist them — two things that are automatic in a court of law. When students are found not guilty, the accusers can appeal the decision. The Title IX panels don't always have the depth of training needed to make these potentially life-altering decisions.

At least 170 students who have wound up in this system have brought legal challenges against their universities, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. We wrote last year about one of those — Yale student Jack Montague, who in February 2016 was expelled three months before he was to have graduated. A university panel determined Montague had had nonconsensual sex with a coed in October 2014. He argued that he and the woman slept together four times, and it was always consensual. The accuser filed her complaint a year after the alleged assault.

KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College who has co-written a book about this issue, argued in a recent essay for City Journal that DeVos should focus on Title IX's obligations for schools to provide counseling, medical assistance and other help to victims of sexual assault, and let law enforcement determine whether a crime was committed.

“Abandoning the Obama administration's one-sidedness would help accused students as well as genuine victims,” Johnson wrote. “If a student has committed sexual assault, he or she should suffer consequences beyond what a college tribunal can mete out.” It's a good point. Someone who commits rape certainly merits much more than expulsion from school.

DeVos is to be commended for trying to ensure fairness is central to this process, for all parties involved.

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