The National Association of Scholars applauds the decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to restore the rule of law and justice to campus sexual assault investigations. On September 7, Secretary DeVos announced that the Department of Education (DoE) will withdraw the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that, by administrative fiat, required colleges and universities to remove due process protections from students accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, the DoE will issue a new policy interpreting Title IX, following a period during which interested parties and members of the public may submit comments.
Secretary DeVos reverses the Obama administration’s ill-founded—and illegal—determination to twist a 1972 law banning discrimination by sex into a mandate for campuses to handle allegations of sexual assault in-house. The Obama administration sidelined appropriate law enforcement agents and turned campus tribunals into a one-stop investigator, jury, and judge. As Secretary DeVos rightly noted, the DoE had “weaponized” Title IX to reduce the standard of evidence for establishing guilt, forbid the accused from seeking legal help, and prevent the introduction of exculpatory evidence.
The National Association of Scholars has repeatedly criticized the Department of Education’s heavy-handed twisting of Title IX, and we welcome Secretary DeVos’s decision. We will participate in the notice-and-comment process and advocate for a detailed, thorough revision of the Title IX system. We urge NAS members and all proponents of liberty and justice to speak up for due process.
We also call on Secretary DeVos to uphold her pledge to end the era of “rule by letter.” Under President Obama, the DoE circumvented the law by creating and issuing regulations in the form of “Dear Colleague” letters sent to colleges and universities receiving federal funding. This must end. NAS has been advocating the Freedom to Learn Amendments to the re-approval of the Higher Education Act, to prevent a future administration from reverting to Obama-era policy—or worse. We will continue to advocate for legislation to remove the power of the federal government to coerce colleges into depriving students of liberty.
Restoring law and order on campus will require more than a new regulation from the Department of Education. In almost every college, six years of pressure under “Dear Colleague” letters has embedded bureaucracies devoted to the unjust systems Secretary DeVos is now attempting to root out.
The more difficult task is to rally public opinion so as to pressure each individual institution of higher education to recommit itself to liberty and due process rights for students and faculty, and to excise the bureaucracies dedicated to abrogating them in the name of “social justice.” NAS will continue this effort, which is the necessary complement to any reform of government policy.
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