Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday called for replacing the Obama administration's rules for investigating allegations of sexual violence on campuses across the country with a more “workable, effective and fair system.”
During a speech at George Mason University, DeVos announced plans to review and overhaul the way colleges and universities handle investigations.
“Here is what I’ve learned: the truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said.
She added, “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved. That’s why we must do better, because the current approach isn’t working.”
DeVos said the department will seek public comment and university expertise to develop rules to replace the current policy.
“We will seek public feedback and combine institutional knowledge, professional expertise, and the experiences of students to replace the current approach with a workable, effective, and fair system,” DeVos said.
The Title IX law, enacted in 1972, 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 become associated with efforts to address sexual assault and harassment at college campuses.
The Obama administration reshaped how colleges handle complaints of sexual assault, setting new rules and starting hundreds of investigations into colleges accused of straying from them.
Central to the debate is a 2011 department memo that laid out rules colleges must follow when responding to complaints of sexual assault from their students.
The memo requires colleges to investigate complaints even if there's a separate criminal inquiry. It also established what has become 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 department has never imposed 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.
On Thursday, about two dozen protesters gathered outside the auditorium where DeVos delivered her speech.
The protesters included women who said they were assaulted on campus and victims' advocates. "Donald Trump supports Betsy DeVos supports perpetrators," read the sign of one protester.
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.
“Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously,” DeVos said Thursday. “Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined. These are non-negotiable principles.”
She added: “Due process either protects everyone, or it protects no one. The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the ‘victim’ only creates more victims.”
Fox News’ Alex Pappas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.