University of Minnesota Responds to Proposed Federal Sexual Assault, Harassment Rules

November 16, 2018 08:29 PM

As college campuses work to address sexual assault and harassment, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveils new regulations addressing the way it's reported, what can be reported and how investigations are conducted.

"Throughout this process, my focus was, is and always will be on ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment," DeVos said, in a statement. "We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas.”

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The proposed rules would define sexual harassment as unwelcome conduct so offensive and pervasive it, "effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program and activity."

RELATED: DeVos Proposes Overhaul to Campus Sexual Misconduct Rules

The proposal gives the student accused the right to cross-examine the survivor through an attorney or advisor.

It also holds schools accountable only if the harassment happens during a school program or activity.

“That would I think really diminish the likelihood of any victim coming forward,” said Dr. Susan Strauss.

She has delivered sexual harassment training to school districts around the state. Strauss said it could make colleges less accountable.

“The potential is there,” she said. “I hope not but I’m afraid they'll say we're not liable for that anyway.”

Schools will be obligated to act if it has “actual knowledge of sexual harassment” and will be held liable if it is “deliberately indifferent.”

“Those accused absolutely deserve due process, it's abhorrent if they haven’t been getting it,” Strauss said. “But (that) shouldn’t be at the expense of the victim.”

RELATED: Kavanaugh Case Unfolds as DeVos Readies Sexual Assault Rule

The University of Minnesota has dealt with high profile sexual assault investigations that stemmed from off-campus incidents. College officials declined our interview requests but provided a statement.

It said, “The University of Minnesota is committed to addressing reports of sexual misconduct in the most effective and sensitive manner. We are currently reviewing the Department of Education's proposed rules. However, we are also aware that the proposed rules will likely undergo changes based on feedback provided during the public comment period before they are implemented.”

There will be a 60 day public comment period.

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