We don’t disagree with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when she says that “Justice demands humility, wisdom and prudence” and “a serious pursuit of truth.” But it’s hard to see how that reconciles with plans she announced this week to rewrite — read: weaken — Obama-era guidelines for colleges and universities on how to handle sexual assaults on campuses. The objective of the guidelines was to improve justice, particularly in protecting victims of sexual assault. But by her comments, DeVos is clearly more interested in better protecting students who are accused, this despite the fact that studies show the prevalence of false reports of sexual assault is small.
Speaking at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia on Thursday, DeVos said that the current approach, adopted by the Obama administration in 2011, isn’t working, but she failed to explain why in any detail. “Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate,” she said.
Apparently it’s easier to go back to the days when many college campuses responded to allegations of sexual assault by just sweeping them under the rug. We fear the message that is being sent to college campuses, particularly to victims of sexual abuse. But given the president’s track record on this issue, particularly his notorious “Access Hollywood” comments in which he boasted of his own unsolicited assaults on women, we shouldn’t be surprised. The optics of this turn-around are not good.