Northwestern ‘reviewing’ new Education Department sexual assault guidance


Source: Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listens to a speech earlier this year. DeVos on Friday announced that she would roll back Obama-era guidelines on sexual assault.

David Fishman, Print Managing Editor

Northwestern administrators said they will review Obama-era guidelines on sexual assault following Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision Friday to rescind the policies and replace them with new ones.

DeVos’ decision, published online as a “Dear Colleague” letter, highlights her desire to grant accused students more protection in the Title IX process. In a statement to The Daily, associate vice president for equity Dwight Hamilton said NU’s sexual misconduct policy is “prompt, fair, impartial while maintaining privacy and fairness.”

Nevertheless, according to the statement, the University will review DeVos’ new guidelines — posted in the form of a Q&A — along with other applicable laws and best practices.

“We are reviewing the Department of Education’s ‘Q & A on Campus Sexual Misconduct,’ along with existing state and federal statutes and best practices,” Hamilton said, “to ensure that we effectively prevent and address sexual misconduct, provide supportive resources to all members of our community who are affected by sexual misconduct, and educate our community on these matters.”

The Education Department said though previous guidelines “may have been well-intentioned,” they ultimately led to the “deprivation” of rights for many students in the Title IX process.

Among the changes in DeVos’ interim guidance, which will remain effective while the department “solicit(s) input from stakeholders,” is the option to use a higher standard of evidence when considering an allegation. Whereas Obama directives mandated a “preponderance of evidence” — which means decision-makers are more than 50 percent sure an assault occurred — schools may now use the higher, “clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof.

Hamilton said NU’s current policy, which follows the preponderance of evidence standard, will remain in effect while administrators review any changes.

The Education Department letter also removes a 60-day time frame suggestion for investigations — which critics said have placed pressure on administrators to reach a hasty decision — and allows schools to informally resolve cases.

“The (Obama-era) guidance has not succeeded in providing clarity for educational institutions,” the department’s acting assistant civil rights secretary Candice Jackson said in the letter. “Instead, schools face a confusing and counterproductive set of regulatory mandates, and the objective of regulatory compliance has displaced Title IX’s goal of educational equity.”

Jackson said the department had decided to revoke previous guidelines because they discouraged cross-examination, hindered due process for accused students and placed too much pressure on administrators.

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