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Will DeVos Guidelines Upend Campus Sexual Assault Policy? One UK Expert Is Skeptical

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University.

The director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Research on Violence Against Women says she suspects universities with well-established sexual assault policies aren’t likely to abandon them – despite new guidance from the Trump administration.

Friday, DeVos formally scrapped Obama-era government policy on campus sexual assault and issued new temporary rules designed to afford more protections for students accused of rape or sexual misconduct. It’s a move anti-violence advocates have been anticipating.

"Everybody has been wondering," says Dr. Diane Follingstad, who heads up UK's center specializing in campus violence against women.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Poster for the Campus Responses to Sexual Misconduct meeting in Lexington on September 22. 2017.

A national conference on campus responses to sexual violence in Lexington kept Follingstad from reviewing the new interim guidelines early Friday, but she expressed skepticism that the rollback of Obama administration guidance won't lead to immediate or dramatic changes at schools with settled policies. 

"Most universities, if they have to this point put policies into place, if they've developed rationales... I have a hunch they won't be changing," she says.

And, she adds, only universities with their “head buried in the sand” would have failed to develop policies and procedures by now.

Under the Trump administration guidelines, universities will be allowed to raise their evidence threshold from a “preponderance of evidence” to a “clear and convincing” standard of proof. The previous standard, endorsed by the Obama administration, required that more than 50 percent of the evidence points to guilt.

How much pressure the administration places on universities to adopt the new standard remains to be seen, but Follingstad notes a process exists for resolving conflicts between universities and national education authorities.

"When Title IX looks at violations, they're looking at whether or not you're basically in the spirit of their guidelines and it gets very technical at the legal level as to exactly when this occurs and there's a lot of discussions and universities are often given chances to remediate what the upper level might think are deficiencies," she explains.

The temporary guidance will remain in effect while the Education Department gathers public comment on a permanent policy prescription.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.