By rescinding for now the current guidance on sexual assaults, the U.S. Secretary of Education is throwing into chaos the campaign against sexual violence on campuses, Sen. Claire McCaskill charged Friday.
The Missouri Democrat said that for students at school this fall, the action by Education Secretary Betsey DeVos means that “if they’re assaulted, it’ll now be harder to fight for justice and ensure their safety on campus.”
DeVos on Friday scrapped Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assaults and replaced it with temporary instructions that let universities choose which standard of proof to use when reviewing complaints.
Currently, sexual assault complaints are investigated using a “preponderance of evidence” level of proof rather than “clear and convincing evidence,” which is harder to prove.
Devos said that for now schools can choose which level of proof to follow.
Kansas State University officials said K-State won’t change how it handles sexual violence cases.
“K-state will continue to address our students in a caring and responsive way and will not change our fairly well-established processes including requiring a preponderance of evidence,” Pat Bosco, vice president for student life, told The Star Friday afternoon.
K-State is one of six schools in the country with five or more federal investigations pending against it because of the way university officials handled claims of sexual violence or harassment.
DeVos has said the Obama rules were unfairly skewed against students accused of assault. She announced earlier this month she would begin a process for replacing that guidance.
On Friday she rescinded a 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which launched a new way of enforcement under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination. She also rescinded additional guidance made in 2014.
“Secretary DeVos has taken the progress we’ve made protecting survivors and making our campuses safer and thrown that progress into chaos,” McCaskill said in a statement.
DeVos in her statement said her new rules do just the opposite.
“Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug,” she said. “This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly.”
Other area colleges said they have yet to make any decisions on how to handle the DeVos changes.
University of Missouri System officials and University of Kansas officials said they will review the guidance carefully to see if any changes in policies and procedures are necessary.
“University of Missouri System and four campuses will comply with federal guidelines,” said Christian Basi, system spokesman.
“KU will not change the commitment to preventing and responding to sexual misconduct by any member of the KU community,” said Shane McCreery, KU’s Title IX Coordinator and director of the office of Institutional Access and Opportunity.
McCreery said KU’s current sexual misconduct policy would remain in place until final guidance comes from the U.S. Department of Education.
Missouri State University officials reviewed the DeVos actions. “The new guidance provides more choice for colleges and universities in how they respond to Title IX issues,” said Jill Patterson, Title IX coordinator. She said MSU has a process that is equitable to both the accuser and the accused. But was not clear whether the school would use preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing evidence in the future.
“We will continue to treat parties to a Title IX issue fairly and will emphasize due process and objectivity within the process,” Patterson said.
In 2014 McCaskill traveled the state talking to college and university leaders, students and staff about doing a better job of reporting and investigating sexual violence and prosecuting offenders.
She said Friday she will fight “to make sure we never turn our back on survivors or on their school’s obligation to keep them safe.”