DeVos’s Right Call on Sexual Assault

DeVos announces a change. 

Photograph: J. Lawler Duggan/Washington Post/Getty Images

Given the man she works for, it was inevitable that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would face some skepticism when she announced a new approach to the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses. But she is right to make the change — and President Donald Trump's boasts of sexual assault, and the line of women who have accused him of harassment, make it all the more important that she succeed in making the system fairer for all students.

DeVos got off to a good start with her commitment to officially seek public input in this process — something her predecessor did not. In 2011, the department sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to colleges and universities offering "guidance" on how to set sexual assault policies, which included an endorsement of the lowest standard of guilt: a "preponderance of the evidence," or greater than 50 percent certainty. At the same time, the department said a school's failure to follow its guidance risked federal investigations and loss of funds.

Schools overreacted in ways that have disregarded basic due-process rights and made a mockery of justice. A recent survey of 53 top colleges found that most do not provide accused students with an explicit presumption of innocence. Some do not even notify students who stand accused in writing. In many cases, these due-process procedures offer less protection than those established for other types of student misconduct.