The Education Department issued new interim guidelines Friday that roll back federal rules governing campus sexual harassment investigations.
The department is withdrawing guidelines issued by former President Barack Obama’s administration, which required colleges to aggressively investigate sexual harassment complaints, said Candice Jackson, the department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, in a letter.
Under the Obama administration, campus Title IX investigations were required to have a lower standard of proof than the criminal justice system requires and the administration threatened to withhold federal student aid funding if colleges did not comply with the guidelines.
The move follows a speech Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave earlier this month, where she announced the department was looking to roll back the Obama administration’s guidelines. She added she thinks the guidelines denied students accused of sexual assault their due process rights.
The department also released a question-and-answer document on campus sexual misconduct that states that campuses can use the higher standard of proof used in the criminal justice system when conducting sexual assault investigations. In addition the document states that campuses can use mediation to handle Title IX complaints instead of adjudicating them, as was mandated by the Obama administration guidelines.
Jackson said the department will open a public comment process as it creates new policies to replaced the withdrawn guidelines.
University of California President Janet Napolitano said in a statement Friday she thinks the Education Department’s decision will weaken sexual violence and harassment protections on campuses.
However, Napolitano added the UC is still committed to protecting victims of sexual assault and will continue to fairly investigate complaints of sexual violence.
Kathleen Salvaty, UC systemwide Title IX coordinator, said in a letter to campus Title IX officers Friday that the UC’s systemwide policies and procedures on sexual violence and sexual harassment will remain in full effect.
“Our community members have the right to be free of sexual violence and sexual harassment,” she said. “It is our job to ensure they not only understand this, but feel comfortable exercising that right and (are) confident in our processes.”
Salvaty added there are resources available to victims of sexual assault, such as the Campus Assault Resources and Education program, which provides confidential consultation and services for survivors.