AFT president fires back at education department over Title IX changes

STEPHON JOHNSON | 11/22/2018, midnight
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten blasted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for proposed changes to Title IX.
Randi Weingarten Contributed

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten blasted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for proposed changes to Title IX. Particularly, the changes in the rules for how schools handle sexual harassment and assault allegations.

DeVos’ proposed changes to Title IX would lead to greater protections for students accused of sexual misconduct and reduced liability for colleges investigating complaints. People accused of sexual assault would have the right to cross-examine their accuser, colleges would have the option of using a higher standard of proof for sexual misconduct and the definition of sexual harassment would narrow.

“That starts with having clear policies and fair processes that every student can rely on,” said DeVos in a statement. “Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined. We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.”

DeVos’ new rules would replace the recently rescinded Title IX guidance from former President Barack Obama that called for more aggressive enforcement of Title IX from schools that accept federal money.

None of the changes sit well with Weingarten, who said DeVos’ rollbacks are part of a pattern of her turning the federal government against society’s most vulnerable.

“Our union will not sit back in silence while Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos roll back the clock to revive the culture of degradation and silence that survivors of campus sexual assault have long endured,” said Weingarten in a statement. “As educators, we understand more than anyone the sanctity of due process and the need to protect those falsely accused, but the evidence that led to Title IX indicates that the system is failing survivors: One in five college undergraduate women are sexually assaulted, but fewer than 10 percent of all assaults are reported because survivors are afraid of coming forward.”

Weingarten continued, “Survivors look to university administrators and government institutions to protect them, not to codify a system that sweeps their experiences under the rug. This rule abdicates the responsibility to protect every student’s right to safety on campus. It tells academic institutions that they needn’t bother helping to protect students; they won’t be liable. These changes once again demonstrate that students are not DeVos’ priority.”

These proposals wouldn't take effect until the public’s given 60 days to weigh in.