Southeast Missouri State University student publication

University awaits Education Department new policies regarding sexual assault standard of proof policy

Monday, November 13, 2017

College campuses across the nation are currently on standby as they wait out key court cases surrounding sexual assault at the university level that will facilitate in determining a new policy for adjudicating sexual assault on campus.

The current standard of proof for finding an accused student guilty of sexual assault on campus is “preponderance of the evidence” or, as it’s known at Southeast, “more-likely-than-not.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in late September announced her plans to reverse the current standard to “clear and convincing evidence” in order to, as she said, provide the university an opportunity to balance the rights of accused students.

Along with this announcement, DeVos also said colleges were free to abandon the current standard and take steps to enforce the stricter option.

Dean of students Sonia Rucker said she is currently reading about the new guidance and watching websites to see which process the Department of Education deems most efficient. For now, she said the university will keep using the “more-likely-than-not” standard that is currently listed in the Code of Student Conduct and Sexual Assault Procedures and Guidelines.

According to the New York Times, the decision on whether to raise the standard of proof or not is based on the question if the Obama administration policy had gone too far in getting sexual assault to be taken seriously, and created a system that treated the accused unfairly.

Rucker said that within the student conduct system at Southeast, she does not feel accused persons are treated unfairly. Each case is determined on an individual basis and all are uniquely investigated by the Office of Student Conduct.

“I believe the most effective way is always just to have thorough investigations, work with your colleagues and come to the most appropriate decision,” Rucker said.

One case that is being watched currently involved Cornell University and the way the administration adjudicates sexual assault. According to PEOPLE magazine, a 21-year-old student filed a civil suit against the school after being arrested for being found in violation of sexually assaulting a woman in his fraternity house bedroom. He claims the internal investigation process is both flawed and illegal — saying his due process rights were violated by not allowing him a fair and reasonable opportunity to defend himself within the investigation.

After the announcement to reverse the Obama-era policy, Missouri State Senator Claire McCaskill wrote a letter to President Donald Trump in attempts to discuss the future for the adjudication procedures for sexual assault.

Within the letter, McCaskill wrote: “The recent decisions by Secretary DeVos and Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson to rescind the Department’s guidance on campus sexual violence is not only creating confusion for colleges and university in the midst of their academic cycle, but it also fails to fully protect students and offer the needed support for survivors.”

McCaskill also cited the results of her unprecedented nationwide survey in 2014 of how sexual assaults are handled on college campuses. The survey revealed 22 percent of institutions gave athletic departments oversight of cases involving athletes; more than 40 percent of schools had not conducted a single investigation in five years; and 21 percent of schools provided no training to faculty and staff, and 31 percent provided no training for students.

In wake of the announcement, she introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act — legislation that works to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses by “protecting and empowering students, strengthening accountability and transparency for institutions, and holding perpetrators accountable.” She also expressed major concerns in regard to the steps DeVos is taking saying it takes several steps in the wrong direction away from protecting survivors and making college campuses a safer place for students.

No final determination has come from the Department of Education as to how universities are expected to move forward with adjudicating sexual assault.

In the current state of things, Rucker said the main priority for Southeast will always be to make sure students are treated fairly and objectively and to ensure the safety of all students on campus.