First off, whenever Education Secretary Betsy DeVos makes a pronouncement, I have to juxtapose whatever she says with her suggestion that people in schools be armed to protect them from grizzlies.
That’s not fair on my part, but making stupid statements leaves you vulnerable to people like me believing you’re going to make more.
And she has done so more or less consistently. But though the Trump administration is filled with bad actors and malevolent enablers, I’m not sure if she’s one of them. What I am sure of, however, is that the administration stands for the eradication of almost all government safeguards, from air and water to health care, and that DeVos was appointed to assist in that philosophy.
So I wasn’t terribly surprised when she said yesterday that the current method of handling sexual abuse on college campuses was unfair, that finding accused rapists guilty based on a mere preponderance of evidence did not meet the level of proof required in a criminal case outside of a college campus where clear and convincing evidence was required. That’s an oversimplification, but it goes to the heart of the issue.
In truth I understand her concern, but her assertion that intimidation and coercion have “pushed schools to overreach” and suspend or expel too many innocent accused is a weak argument. True, there have been instances where young men have been found guilty of campus sexual assault, been removed from school, then either had the accuser recant or have someone turn up further evidence that exonerated him. Add to this the fact that many such sexual encounters occur in the haze of alcohol and subsequent recollections may be cloudy and, as I said, I understand her concern.
But let’s not allow these few exceptions to conceal the fact that for years, decades, women on college campuses were fearful of reporting sexual assaults, having learned firsthand or through the experiences of others that most colleges were loath to follow up and make themselves look bad. As for the difference between a college hearing and a criminal court case, they should be different. Colleges lack investigative and subpoena powers and can’t be expected to behave like criminal courts, and though Ms. DeVos offered no specific details on what her new policy would be, chances are good that the victim of the assault will again be the victim of the investigation.
Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, counters Ms. DeVos’s arguments, harking back to the times when men would throw their weight around and assault women with impunity. “Changing that culture over the last decade,” he says, “as the Obama administration tried to do, was an enormous contribution.”
False equivalency warning: DeVos’s position reminds me of the “Black Lives Matter” movement which was counteracted by the “All Lives Matter” movement which, of course translated to “Black Lives Don’t Really Matter.” The weakening of rules protecting women on campus and empowering those who would assault them seem to represent the same philosophy: Yes, victims, your lives matter, but the lives of the ones who victimize you matter just as much. Kinda like those fine people carrying torches in Charlottesville matter just as much as Heather Heyer. (I guess I should have given you another false equivalency warning.)
Betsy DeVos is wrong on this, but in the end it may be up to college presidents to instill an attitude on their campuses in which, regardless of what drivel emanates from Washington, women feel safe from predatory behavior and confident in their ability to report it.