Betsy Devos Rescinds Obama-era Title IX Guidance

BY CLAIRE HALLORAN

Secretary of Education Betsy Devos rescinded the Title IX “dear colleague” guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2011 and 2014.

The guidance was used to ensure victims of sexual misconduct were not denied access to education. It also encouraged universities to apply preponderance evidence while investigating reports of sexual misconduct.

Preponderance evidence is evidence that is probable truth or accuracy. It relies more on quality not the quantity of evidence.

After rescinding the “dear colleague” guidance, Devos released a new set of directions for how universities will deal with cases of sexual misconduct until a new federal regulation dealing with campus sexual misconduct is finalized.

Supporters of the new guidance appreciate the flexibility given to individual universities to decide how to evaluate evidence and how to resolve cases involving sexual misconduct. Critics fear this new flexibility will once again allow universities to ignore incidents of sexual misconduct

Valerie Harrison, the Senior Advisor to the President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Temple, explained that the guidance issued by both the Obama administration and now Devos are usually used as a minimum requirement for schools.

“We go far beyond what the minimum requirements are, and I think we will stay on course and will continue to do that,” Harrison said. “Rescinding the letter doesn’t prohibit us from staying on course at all, it just gives more flexibility in terms of the minimum requirements. But again, we are far beyond that.”

According to Harrison, Temple’s commitment to victims of sexual misconduct can be observed in the campus ItsOnUs initiative, Tuttleman Counseling services, and the new option for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct online. The administration is also working closely with Temple’s Student Government to promote community involvement to eliminate sexual assault on campus.

One of the most significant changes in the new guidance is that colleges can now decide if they want to apply the quality of preponderance evidence standard as Obama’s guidance encouraged, or opt for a “clear and convincing” evidence standard.

According to Crystal C. Coombes, the senior deputy Title IX coordinator at the University of South Florida, the preponderance standard is preferred because the “clear and convincing” evidence standard is not fit for a university setting.

The guidance also states a college can choose to set an appeals process policy that allows both parties to file for an appeal or the accused students only. It also removed the fixed time frame for investigations set to 60 days by the Obama administration.

The final significant difference in the guidance is that colleges can now choose “informal resolutions” such as mediation to resolve cases of sexual misconduct. Critics fear that this guidance may force victims into resolutions they are not comfortable with.

Nationwide at schools, such as George Mason University and Harvard Law School, there has been a large movement of students protesting this change, fearing its threat to victims’ rights to access to an education.

Brittany Valentine is a 25-year-old intern at Women’s Organized Against Rape and Temple student.

“Any institution that is dealing with young people and their education or their wellbeing has a responsibility to protect their students, especially in minority or marginalized groups,” Valentine said. “It’s a horrible analogy but it’s as if college campuses have become a hunting ground for sexual assault, and we need our school’s support to end that.”

For more information about Temple’s sexual misconduct resources, visit sexualmisconduct.temple.edu.