DeVos, Ed Department to release new rules on campus sexual misconduct
- The Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos is preparing to release new rules on campus sexual misconduct, according to The New York Times.
- The new policies would tighten the definition of sexual harassment to that which "denies a person access to the school's education program or activity" while reducing accountability for colleges and universities and raising the legal standard for determining whether institutions have addressed complaints adequately. The rules also reflect DeVos' interest in using mediation to address sexual misconduct cases, and would allow victims and the accused to question each other.
- The rules update guidance put forth by the Obama administration increasing accountability around sexual misconduct on campus. Many higher ed administrators thought those rules were too constraining, and DeVos withdrew the guidance last year and replaced it with interim guidance that narrowed criteria around the handling of sexual assault on campus. The new rules would be subject to a public comment period and then would be implemented with the force of law, The Times reported.
Several colleges and universities are grappling with high-profile sexual misconduct cases that draw attention to lacking accountability and mismanagement of victim complaints on campuses across the U.S., in some cases spanning decades.
Earlier this month, Max Nikias stepped down as president of the University of Southern California amid accusations that he and other university officials mishandled sexual misconduct complaints concerning campus gynecologist George Tyndall. Nikias will retain the role of president emeritus, USA Today reported. Meanwhile, the university set up an Office of Professional Ethics to review such issues in the future, the BBC notes.
In January, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon resigned amid criticism that the university ignored complaints about sexual abuse from victims of Larry Nassar. The former physician for the university and Olympic gymnastics teams was sentenced earlier this year to 40 to 175 years in prison on seven first-degree sexual conduct charges in addition to charges in other courts in Michigan and Texas.
Most instances of sexual misconduct on campus never make the front page, however. A Wall Street Journal report in June revealed that 22 public university systems paid more than $10.5 million across 59 settlements connected with sexual harassment claims in 2016 and 2017. The settlements primarily concern claims that universities failed to adequately respond to misconduct accusations. Some aimed to avoid drawn-out litigation by offering accused faculty and staff the opportunity to resign or retire early, the Journal noted.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in February aims to improve how colleges and universities handle sexual misconduct complaints. It would require one or more leader at the level of the president or board to review all such cases and also confirm that they haven’t interfered with the related investigations.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Max Nikias. He is the former president of the University of Southern California.