Contact: Christopher Perry
Wesley College Determination Letter, Presidential Election May Portend Overhaul of Campus Sexual Assault Procedures
WASHINGTON / November 18, 2016 – A recent Determination Letter from the federal Office for Civil Rights, along with impending administrative changes at the Department of Education, highlight the need for college administrators to reassess their campus investigative and adjudicatory procedures in sexual assault cases to assure fairness and reliable outcomes.
In April 2015, a student who formerly attended Wesley College of Delaware who was accused of videotaping a sexual encounter without consent, filed a Title IX complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. The student alleged that the college failed to provide a full opportunity for him to respond to the charges, rebut the allegations, or defend himself at his hearing.
The subsequent OCR Determination Letter documented a broad array of due process violations (1). Based on these findings, Wesley College agreed to implement numerous provisions to bring its school into compliance with Title IX, including:
- Providing for an adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of all complaints
- Providing an equal opportunity for the parties to present witnesses and other evidence
- Providing equal access to information being considered during the adjudication process
- Complying with law enforcement requests for cooperation, and temporarily suspend its own investigation while law enforcement is in the process of gathering evidence.
- Revising school policies so parties would not be prohibited from discussing information related to their complaint with others.
- Conducting a careful inquiry into the risk of harm to the school community, prior to imposing any interim suspension.
The recent OCR Determination Letter was the first time the U.S. agency has investigated alleged due process shortcomings at a college.
In addition, last week’s presidential election is certain to alter the political landscape for the Department of Education. According to Gerard Robinson, a leader in president-elect Trump’s transition team, the Office for Civil Rights needs to revise its policies to ensure that students’ rights are not “trampled on” (2). “I think you can be certain that OCR will be downsized and will be less prominent in a Trump administration,” according to Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (3).
Earlier this week, SAVE assembled an expert panel to discuss how the incoming Trump Administration is likely to alter the Office for Civil Rights sexual assault policies. The SAVE representatives on the panel recommended that schools take decisive steps to assure due process for accused students, including elimination of single-investigator models and victim-centered investigations, which make a presumption of guilt and make it difficult, if not impossible for an innocent student to prove his innocence (4).
Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, a non-profit organization, is working for effective and fair solutions to the problem of campus sexual assault.