Hundreds of college students who have been accused of rape or sexual assault have written to the Department of Education protesting the handling of their cases, the New York Times reports. Some had lost scholarships. Some had been expelled. A mother stumbled upon her son trying to take his own life, recalled Candice Jackson, the top civil rights official at the Department of Education. On campus after campus, from the University of Virginia to Columbia University, from Duke to Stanford, higher education has been roiled by high-profile cases of sexual assault accusations. Today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is meeting in private with women who say they were assaulted, accused students and their families, advocates for both sides and higher education officials. It is the first step in a contentious effort to re-examine policies of President Obama, who made expansive use of his powers to investigate the way universities and colleges handle sexual violence.
How university and college administrations have dealt with campus sexual misconduct charges has become one of the most volatile issues in higher education. Many women say higher education leaders have not taken their trauma seriously. The Obama administration’s response prompted a backlash, not just from the accused and their families but from well-regarded law professors who say new rules went too far. Jackson, who organized today’s sessions, believes investigations under the 1972 law known as Title IX have gone deeply awry. A sexual assault survivor herself, she sees “a red flag that something’s not quite right” — and that the rights of accused students have too often been ignored. Hundreds of cases are still pending, some for years, she said, because investigators were “specifically told to keep looking until you find the violation” on college campuses even after they found none. Her critics deny the charge. As of Monday, the office had 496 open sexual assault cases, and the average length of a case is 703 days.