Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said last week that she will review the guidance for addressing sexual assault on college campuses. DeVos said she thinks the Obama administration went too far in an attempt to protect victims, ultimately infringing on the due process of those accused.
Though DeVos is a contentious education secretary to say the least, she is absolutely right on this issue.
Due process is a fundamental right granted to Americans through the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. And although campus hearings are not government courts of law, public universities, which are government entities, should be beholden to the same standards.
Currently, too many campus hearings at public colleges – for sexual assault or other charges – look like this: The accused is ushered into a room where a single arbitrator or a small group of university employees unilaterally decides the fate of the person. Depending on the college, the accused may not be allowed to call witnesses or bring forth any evidence.
Even in IU's system, where the accused may suggest witnesses and produce evidence, the time frame to do so leaves students scrambling.
Who is allowed to speak, what evidence is brought forth and who decides responsibility are all determined by the university. It’s ridiculous to believe that this process could ever be impartial, and it’s even more ridiculous to expect 20-year-old people without the right to let an attorney defend them to defend themselves.
In IU's case specifically, attorneys are allowed to be present, but they cannot speak.
In criminal trials, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but campuses have perverted this American standard of justice and now force the accused to prove his or her innocence.
News outlets as varied as National Public Radio, the Washington Examiner and the Atlantic have criticized current campus sexual assault policy. Universities have gone beyond providing support to victims and now wholly disregard the rights of the accused.
Though those who criticize DeVos’ stance, like Lucia Graves in the Guardian, claim that DeVos is simply protecting the entitled white male masses that helped elect Donald Trump.
We wholeheartedly understand why people distrust the Trump administration, but advocating for due process on campuses should not be met with scorn.
Currently, campus sexual assault is treated as an inherently different crime than all others, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Additionally, the standard of proof is much lower than in criminal trials – a mere preponderance of the evidence is needed to find someone guilty on campus.
This means that those determining guilt need only find that it's more likely than not that the alleged student is responsible.
No crime should treat the accused as guilty until proven innocent, but those who criticize DeVos simultaneously want the Trump administration to be able to determine what crimes warrant this special status of proving innocence.
Giving the government the power to suspend due process for any reason weakens the civil liberties of all Americans. Public universities need to treat those accused of sexual assault with the same presumption of innocence as those accused in courts.
Due process is one of the most important tenets in the American legal system, and public universities that disregard it are actively telling students that their rights don’t matter.
The Editorial Board wrote contrasting opinions on Betsy DeVos and Title IX. Read the dissenting editorial here.