This post was updated Sept. 8 at 3:41 p.m.
President Donald Trump’s administration announced Thursday plans to roll back federal rules governing campus sexual harassment investigations.
In a speech at George Mason University in Virginia, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the administration is looking to replace guidelines from former President Barack Obama’s administration that pushed colleges and secondary schools to more aggressively investigate sexual harassment complaints.
DeVos said the Department of Education will be seeking public comment to determine its new policy.
The Obama administration conducted more investigations on campus Title IX complaints and threatened to withhold federal student aid funding if colleges did not comply with the new guidelines.
DeVos said she thinks campuses denied students accused of sexual assault their due process rights because the Obama administration’s guidelines stated that campus Title IX investigations can have a lower standard of proof than the criminal justice system requires.
“The system established by the Obama administration has failed survivors and the falsely accused,” she said.
DeVos mentioned a student at USC who was expelled for sexually assaulting his girlfriend even though his girlfriend claimed there was no wrongdoing.
“The young woman repeatedly assured campus officials she had not been abused nor had any misconduct occurred,” DeVos said. “But because of the failed system, university administrators told her they knew better.”
DeVos said she thinks the current definition of sexual misconduct is too broad and infringes on speech protected by the First Amendment.
“Punishing speech protected by the First Amendment trivializes actual harassment,” DeVos said. “It teaches students the wrong lesson about the importance of free speech in our democracy.”
DeVos added her office will implement a process to replace the current Title IX system that draws on public feedback, professional expertise and student experiences.
“In order to ensure that America’s schools employ clear, equitable, just and fair procedures that inspire trust and confidence, we will launch a transparent notice-and-comment process to incorporate the insights of all parties in developing a better way,” DeVos said.
University of California President Janet Napolitano said in a statement Thursday she thinks the Trump administration’s move could lead to less support for survivors of sexual violence. She added she thinks the Obama administration guidelines helped establish procedures for campuses to promptly and fairly investigate sexual violence complaints.
“Today’s move will … raise questions about how schools prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment,” Napolitano said in the statement.
Napolitano added the UC recently created a system-wide Title IX office and established campus advocacy offices to support survivors of sexual violence.
Kathleen Salvaty, the UC’s systemwide Title IX coordinator, said the UC will not be changing its Title IX investigation procedures. She added that most Title IX investigations are fair and thorough.
“There are only a few examples where due process did not occur,” she said. “We have worked really hard over the years to have a fair process.”
Salvaty said that in the UC’s Title IX investigations, individuals accused of sexual assault are allowed to respond to allegations and are given a chance to appeal sanctions.
UC campuses also have respondent services coordinators who help individuals accused of sexual assault understand their rights and the investigation process, Salvaty added.
Several student leaders said they think the Trump administration’s move could discourage survivors of sexual assault from coming forward with complaints.
Christina Lee, Student Wellness commissioner in UCLA’s undergraduate student government, said she thinks DeVos’ announcement will make it more difficult for survivors of sexual assault to report crimes.
“(The announcement) creates a hostile environment for survivors,” she said. “The system is already unforgiving for survivors, and this just creates more doubt for them.”
Lee added she thinks DeVos’ concerns that students are sometimes wrongly accused of sexual assault are overblown.
“There’s no more false reporting than in any other crime,” she said.
Ayane Tsutsumi, co-chair of the Bruin Consent Coalition, a committee in the undergraduate student council’s Student Wellness Commission, said she thinks Title IX offices are currently thorough and evidence-based in their investigations.
“Taking a step back from the (Obama administration) guidelines will not help survivors,” she said. “Supporting the Title IX office is necessary.”