The way area colleges deal with campus sexual assault is unlikely to change anytime soon despite the U.S. education secretary’s announcement Thursday that she will review and alter the federal government’s guidelines for dealing with the issue.
U.S. Department of Education secretary Betsy DeVos said that colleges need to do a better job at balancing the rights of the accuser and the accused but she gave few clues as to what changes are to come, leaving college administrators only to wonder and remain on standby.
“Right now we just know she’s not happy with the way things are. We don’t know exactly where she’s taking things,” said Matt Boaz, Wright State University’s chief diversity officer.
Boaz oversees Wright State’s Title IX coordinator and worked as one himself for 11 years, he said. Title IX is the a gender-equity law used to prevent discrimination at American colleges that receive federal financial assistance.
Boaz does not expect any major changes anytime soon but said Wright State will probably re-evaluate its own policies when the federal department of education issues a new directive. The University of Dayton has multiple sexual assault prevention initiatives on campus but as of Friday UD officials were unavailable to comment on DeVos’s announcement.
While DeVos praised the Obama administration for drawing more attention to campus sexual assault, she said suggested that specialized regional Title IX centers would be able to conduct better investigations of campus sexual assault.
“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students. 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,” DeVos said. “That’s why we must do better, because the current approach isn’t working.”
DeVos also criticized the Obama-era guidelines for creating a long backlog of federal investigations into the handling of sexual assault cases on dozens of campuses. Both Miami University and Wittenberg University have been the subject of some of the education department’s probes.
There are currently three ongoing cases at Miami, with the oldest of which was opened in November while the two latest cases were both opened on June 9. Miami is tied with Ohio State University for having the highest number of open investigations in the state right now.
Following DeVos’s announcement this week, Miami released a statement saying it is committed to complying with Title IX.
“The university provides an array of services to victims/survivors of Title IX offenses while working tirelessly to ensure that the disciplinary system and procedures are fair to all involved,” according to the statement.
Wittenberg University recently saw two of its federal probes closed by the department. Those cases were initially opened in 2011 and 2013 and were not resolved until March 24.
Although the federal government’s guidelines for dealing with campus sexual assault may change, most schools are already constantly re-evaluating and changing their own policies to make sure they work, said Casey Gill, Wittenberg University dean of students. That’s what Wittenberg plans to do unless a new directive is given, she said.
“A lot of us anticipated something more to happen (Thursday) but i guess we’re kind of left in this world of the unknown,” Gill said. “We’re going to continue to operate as we do until we hear otherwise”