DENVER — It is a decision that has the potential to have a major impact on universities nationwide.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke out against President Barack Obama’s guidelines regarding how colleges handle allegations of sexual assault.
The Obama administration threatened to pull federal funding if universities failed to take allegations seriously in a letter that has become known as the “Dear Colleage” letter.
“The system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said in a Thursday address.
The theme of the speech focused on protecting survivors but also ensuring students don’t face the prospect of being falsely accused.
“Washington dictated schools must use the lowest standards of proof,” DeVos said. “Every survivor of sexual assault must be taken seriously, every student accused of sexual assault must know guilt is not predetermined.”
At the University of Denver, Title IX coordinator Eric Butler said the news wasn’t unexpected.
“This is something the administration’s been talking about,” Butler said.
But Butler cautioned that the secretary should not make any changes that stop the progress that has been made with the issue in recent years.
“We need to stay the course and show our commitment to the issue at the same time,” Butler said.
Butler said since the “Dear Colleague” letter, DU has hired three full-time professional investigators to handle any allegations and allows attorneys into hearings to help the accused should an issue arise.
Butler suspects DeVos’ remarks were directed at smaller colleges with smaller budgets.
“They want to show a little more consistency and maybe regulations may provide that consistency,” Butler said.
At the offices of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the DeVos speech has created concern.
“We received phone calls from survivors asking what will happen to their case,” said Raana Simmons, the group’s policy director.
Simmons said the speech has left many people wondering what new guidelines will be issued.
“There may be room for improvement but it doesn’t mean dismantle the whole system,” Simmons said.