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Beyond the News

Dear Colleague letter retracted

University Business, November 2017

Colleges are now free to abandon Obama-era guidelines requiring them to use the lowest standard of proof in deciding whether students are responsible for sexual assault.

The Department of Education is withdrawing the statements of policy and guidance on the Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence (2011), as well as the Questions and Answers on Title IX Sexual Violence (2014).

Those on each side of the action reacted strongly to the news.


Sidebar: More reaction to the Dear Colleague letter’s retraction


In agreement

“The best way to crack down on these crimes, and provide real measures of justice to victims, is to make it easier for victims to come forward, avail themselves of the legal system, and receive the support and services they need and deserve. The more [Betsy] DeVos can move the system under the umbrella of the justice system, the better off all students will be.”

—The Editors of Bloomberg

“Given this administration’s disregard for matters of civil rights, it seemed best to gird for the worst: full retreat. That Ms. DeVos instead opted for a deliberative approach, including public input about potential changes, was a welcome surprise. It should be encouraged by those who want a just handling of these fraught cases.”

—Washington Post Editorial Board

“College students are routinely denied even the most basic elements of a fair hearing. Indeed, since the 2011 ‘Dear Colleague’ letter was issued, students have filed more than 180 lawsuits against colleges for allegedly conducting unfair disciplinary procedures.”

—Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Not in agreement

“This interim guidance will have a devastating impact on students and schools. It will discourage students from reporting assaults, create uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law, and make campuses less safe. This misguided directive is a huge step back to a time when sexual assault was a secret that was swept under the rug.”

—Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center

“The Q&A includes a change in policy that mediation will now be an acceptable form of resolving a complaint of sexual assault.

“This change is in direct contradiction to the 2001 guidance even though the Dear Colleague Letter says the Department will continue to rely on the 2001 guidance to assess whether a school is in compliance with Title IX.”

—Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, led by Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington

“DeVos’s analysis ... confuses a school’s obligation to protect the civil rights of its students under Title IX with a defendant’s rights in the criminal justice system.

“Of course students in school adjudications deserve fair processes. They reserve for criminal defendants the highest standards of due process—higher than what is necessary for a school adjudication. To conflate civil rights and the criminal justice system is both misleading and legally incorrect.”  

—Diane L. Rosenfeld, Washington Post Opinion

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