DeVos Reach for Fairness May Not Be Enough for Campus Sexual Assault Cases - Higher Education
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DeVos Reach for Fairness May Not Be Enough for Campus Sexual Assault Cases

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by Emil Guillermo


Let me state my basic bias from the beginning.

I don’t care for Betsy DeVos as an Education Secretary. The woman who made her name advocating for vouchers and the free market knows nothing about education, K-to-forever.  

Emil Guillermo

But her latest move makes me cheer.

DeVos has acted on what has been a rallying issue among conservatives and liberals alike. It just depends on if you’ve paid attention to how colleges and universities deal with sexual assault.

DeVos has announced she’s rescinding the Obama administration’s guidelines on campus sexual assault, and coming up with new fairer standards. 

It’s a welcome sign for all, really, but especially for the accused. No one likes the fact that sexual assault is at an alarming level on campus, or that the numbers are likely just a fraction of the assaults that may actually take place. Victims don’t always come forward and seek justice in a hostile system.

The Obama administration’s directives were useful in forcing schools to take the issue seriously.  But they also set a lower standard to determine guilt, and imposed a quick time frame of 60 days to resolve matters.

The environment that allowed for more accusers to come forward inadvertently created an equally unwanted situation—unfairness for the accused. 

Instead of our imperfect justice system that we all know and love to varying degrees, cases were routed through a sub-system of college justice that often looked nothing like justice at all.

There were no judges, but school officials, maybe a student. There weren’t the things you’d expect to see in a legal proceeding. Facing your accuser? Cross examination?  Due process?  

Oh, you get all that in a court of law. But this was something else.


In college sexual assault court, it was merely a facsimile of justice. Sort of like comparing an intramural recreational football game to real pro football.  

Not exactly the same thing. But when people go all-out, participants can still get hurt badly–especially the accused.I’m all for the rights of victims and have written pieces that some would call pro-victim. I railed against perps on campus.

But what if a victim lies or exaggerates what has happened? It only turns the accused into the real victim of a rigged system. 

DeVos is trying to balance the scales of justice here, and it will still take time to come up with new guidelines.

Victims’ rights groups have said it will create only more uncertainty among schools and force victims to not come forward.  

That may not happen, as already some schools have expressed a renewed commitment to fairness in fighting against campus assaults. Schools have a real interest in fairness. There’s a mounting number of cases where accused students have sued their schools over how their case has been handled—and won.Clearly, something is wrong when the current system leaves you with two victims and no good results.

I’ve always said the problem has been this secondary “administrative” level which tries to emulate justice while protecting students from the cruel hard world.  

But why coddle the accusers at the expense of the accused?

If a crime has been committed, don’t leave it up to the ad hoc “kangaroo” courts that are making it up as they go along.  

Bring in the police. Bring in the DA.  Evaluate the evidence. Let real justice happen. Put the matter in the court system and find the truth.

Real accusations deserve that. And the accused deserve to fight serious charges in a real court of law. 

Short of that, whatever DeVos comes up with as her ultimate answer may not really be any better than what we have.

As long as we’re involved in a sub-system of intramural justice, we’re skirting the real issue when we leave it to schools to keep things “in-house.”  

Just think of what happened to that other institution—the Catholic Church.

If the idea is that we’re trying to spare young people from the big, bad justice system, and make everything some kind of “learning experience,” that’s just a bad way to deal with campus sexual assault.  

The ivory tower shouldn’t be used as a block on real justice.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the civil rights group AALDEF at http://www.aaldef.org/blog