Guidelines on how to handle allegations of sexual assault for colleges and universities are about to be overhauled in the latest proposal from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The proposal will give new rights to the people who are accused of the crimes, including the right to cross-examine their accusers, sources familiar with the situation told The Washington Post for a report published Wednesday.
The new rules would also decrease liability for colleges, restrict the definition of what qualifies as sexual harassment and give universities the ability to use a “higher standard” in assessing allegations.
The proposal will wash over the guidelines established by the Obama administration in 2011, which informed school administrators that if they did not take sufficient steps to prevent and address sexual misconduct they would find themselves in violation of Title IX and could risk losing funding from the federal government.
A copy of the proposal first leaked earlier this year, and, according to the Post, the document has not changed much since then. The earlier leaked proposal, which was obtained by the New York Times, also said that schools would not be held responsible for investigating episodes that had not taken place on their own property, like at off-campus parties or venues.
Under the new guidelines, sexual harassment would be defined as any “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”
Under the Obama administration, the definition of sexual harassment was “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”
DeVos has already taken aim at several Obama-era policies. In 2017 she rescinded a rule demanding that colleges use the “lowest standard of proof” when working on sexual misconduct cases. The education secretary said at the time that the policy had “lacked basic elements of fairness” and “failed the accused.” She added that her department’s new policy would require “clear and convincing evidence” before taking any disciplinary action against students who have been accused.
The proposal comes as sexual harassment and assault have become a renewed national debate in the wake of the allegations made against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The new justice was accused of sexual misconduct by three women, with one of them testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill during his confirmation proceedings. The testimony by Christine Blasey Ford sparked a new FBI investigation, though ultimately Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed to the bench by the Republican-led Senate.
Trending social media movements during Kavanaugh’s confirmation included “I Believe Survivors” and “Why I Didn’t Report.” It also coincided with the one-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, which saw the downfall of once-powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.
DeVos’s newest proposal is reportedly set to be released before the Thanksgiving holiday next week.