Betsy DeVos and the Search for Truth in Campus Sexual Assault Policy



Let’s hear it for Betsy DeVos—an exhortation that could be construed as, let’s hear it for Donald Trump, who this year made her his education secretary. But it’s not necessary to get into the partisan nitty-gritty to acknowledge the wisdom and justice of DeVos’s efforts to reform to the process universities use to adjudicate alleged sexual assaults on campus.

Whereas the Obama administration imposed on colleges and universities a program weighted against accused—repeat, accused—offenders, virtually all of them male, DeVos will allow schools to use a higher burden of proof when determining whether the accused should be found guilty.   This is not for the sake of the guilty; rather, it is to make sure, through a higher standard of proof, that the accused really did what they’re accused of.

This sounds like old-fashioned fairness . . . which it is.  And about time, too.  The only people we should want punished for sexual assault are proven sexual assailants.  Lives and careers can be ruined, and stupendous legal bills run up, in the absence of the clearer standards to which the DeVos Department of Education means to hold university interrogators.

It’s possible to confuse high proof standards with official indifference to assault—possible, but ludicrous.  When it comes to disciplinary proceedings, who did what to whom, and how, needs to be made as clear as possible at the end of the day.  Federal disciplinary processes under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 “have not commonly devolved,” she has said, “into an attempt to satisfy [the department’s Office for Civil Rights] rather than search for the truth.”  Again:  Let’s hear it for Betsy DeVos.

To this crazy state of things we have come, due to our ongoing moral upheavals.  Once upon a time parents and colleges sought to enforce by precept, curfew, and separate male-female living quarters an environment that eliminated many of the situations where sexual assaults take place.  Today, the federal moral police wander constantly in our midst, making sure we avoid offensive language, exhibit “tolerance,” bestow admiration on approved ideas and heroes, and show up when subpoenaed, as when a male collegian finds himself accused of an offense—an accusation he would not have faced in ye olden tyme, when his parents would have warned him never—hear this?—never to be in a situation where he was alone late at night with one of his female peers in the first place.

The old standards were better than the new ones, both as an ideal and, practically, for the prevention of sexual assault.  It’s impossible to believe otherwise (though some try).

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