As home to James Madison University, Harrisonburg is understandably proud of its role in higher education. Even prestigious universities have scandals and controversies, however; few are more serious than when one student accuses another student of sexual assault.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently issued new regulations for colleges and universities that receive federal funding to follow when sexual assault allegations are made.
Due process for all
About a decade ago, the Obama administration set out to bolster the protections of those students who claimed they had been sexually assaulted. Many critics contended that those guidelines overcompensated, and did not respect due process for the accused.
DeVos pledged early in her tenure to bolster the due process rights of the accused and says that the new regulations strike a needed balance between the rights of the accusers and the rights of the accused.
She says the new rules are the result of “years of wide-ranging research, careful deliberation and critical input.” She said that the revised regulations “requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”
The final regulations protect rights by allowing representatives of both the accuser and the accused to cross-examine witnesses or the other party. The regulations allow introduce live hearings into the process, though either the accuser or accused can request to have the hearings conducted in separate rooms connected by technological means.
Perspective of the accused
An attorney interviewed by The Hill said, “Coming at it from the perspective of an accused student or due process perspective, they will be happy with the changes because they are requiring institutions very prescriptively to add significant process to their response to sexual harassment under Title IX.”
It should be noted that Title IX is the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding.
The Department of Education says the final regulations must be implemented by Aug. 14. The rules also include processes for allegations of sexual harassment, date violence, domestic violence and stalking.