The Obama-era Office for Civil Rights lowered standards for convicting college students of sexual assault. We need to protect all students’ rights.
In a series of meetings this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos signaled strong disagreement with the Obama administration’s aggressive erosion of due process protections for college students accused of sexual assault. While deploring the horrors of the offense, DeVos added that “a system without due process protections … serves no one.”
This was a welcome change from the decrees issued by the Obama-era Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which had told colleges to avoid any due process safeguards that would “restrict or unnecessarily delay the protections provided by Title IX” to accusers.
Surveying the damage to fundamental fairness from the Obama-era policies, a recent study by UCLA professor John Villasenor concluded that an innocent student has as much as a one-in-three chance of being found guilty by today’s campus sexual assault tribunals.
The Obama policy proceeded from the counterfactual claim that sex crimes — which are no doubt a serious problem — were sweeping through the nation’s campuses like an epidemic. (In fact the number declined dramatically between 1994 and 2010.) With vocal support from President Obama and Vice President Biden, OCR used this myth to reinterpret the Title IX, the statute barring sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. The Obama-era OCR ordered universities to use the lowest possible standard of proof (preponderance of evidence, or 50.01%) and allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings. It also discouraged colleges from allowing cross-examination of accusing students, and urged institutions to deny accused students any right to a hearing by giving all power to a single bureaucrat to act as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.
During DeVos’ meetings, the accusers’ rights organization Know Your IX organized a protest outside the Department of Education, demanding a blanket retention of Obama’s policies. The group was joined by the leading congressional foe of campus due process, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. She maintained that “if Secretary DeVos rolls back these protections” — each of which had placed a…