USA Politics First Look

DeVos proposes changes to Obama-era Title IX enforcement

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says current procedures for handling sexual assault complaints on college campuses 'aren't working' and plans to share major revisions on how Title IX policies will be enforced on Thursday.

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D) of New York (c.) attends a rally with sexual assault survivors outside the Department of Education on Sept. 6, 2017 in anticipation of major changes to Title IX enforcement policies to be announced Thursday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
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  • Collin Binkley
    Associated Press

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said Obama administration guidance on how colleges should handle sexual assault complaints isn't working and suggested it needs revisions.

She was expected to detail her plans Thursday in what the US Education Department described as a "major policy address on Title IX enforcement."

Enacted in 1972, Title IX is a federal law that forbids discrimination based on sex in education. It was once seen as a measure to ensure equity in college sports, but in recent years has been associated with efforts to address sexual assault and harassment at college campuses across the country.

The Obama administration reshaped how colleges handle complaints of sexual assault, setting new rules and launching investigations into colleges accused of straying from them.

Ms. DeVos hasn't shared her plans on the topic, but in an interview with The Associated Press she said the system "is not working right and well for anyone."

"We know we have to get this right," she said. "We have to get this right on behalf of all students."

In contemplating policy changes, DeVos held meetings with victims of assault, those who said they were wrongly accused and representatives of colleges and universities.

Central to the debate is a 2011 memo from the Education Department that laid out rules colleges must follow when responding to complaints of sexual assault from their students.

Known as the "Dear Colleague Letter," the memo requires colleges to investigate complaints even if there's a separate criminal inquiry, and it established a polarizing standard of evidence used to judge cases.

Unlike in criminal courts, where guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, colleges judge students based on whether it's "more likely than not" they committed the offense.

Colleges that are found to have violated Title IX rules can lose federal funding entirely, although the Education Department has never dealt that penalty.

Some advocacy groups say the Obama-era policies are flawed but worth saving. They argue the policies have protected many students and forced colleges to confront problems that were long kept quiet.

But opponents say the rules have swung the pendulum too far and pressure colleges to take hasty and heavy action against students accused of misconduct.

Since President Trump took office, critics including men's rights groups and lawyers representing students accused of misconduct have called for an overhaul of the system.

Advocacy groups that support victims of assault have been bracing for changes to the rules but say Title IX will continue to protect students.

On Wednesday, students and representatives from groups including the National Women's Law Center delivered more than 100,000 petitions from across the country in support of the Dear Colleague Letter.

This article was reported by The Associated Press.