Since then, colleges have spent millions of dollars to hire and train investigators and counselors and to establish sexual assault prevention training for students. Those are likely to remain in place, and in a statement, Ms. DeVos said she expected colleges to not let their guard down. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on,” she said. “But the process must also be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
Ms. DeVos had signaled her desire to revisit the rules by holding private meetings in July with students who said they had been unfairly punished, as well as others who said their accusations had been mishandled. This month, in a speech at George Mason University’s law school, she sharply criticized the Obama administration’s approach. “Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” she said.
Natalie Weill, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was among those on Friday expressing dismay about Ms. DeVos’s move. She said that she had used the 2011 guidelines to convince the college that the student who attacked her should be expelled.
Without them, “I would have been forced to drop out of school or risk the danger of encountering the offender,” she said. “DeVos’s decision is a disaster for students, and there will be an outcry from engaged and enraged students on this attack on our civil rights.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the university, Meredith McGlone, said a Wisconsin student who commits sexual assault today would be no less likely to be expelled because of the changes. “Our policies and procedures are not changing,” she said.
But Patricia Hamill, a lawyer in Philadelphia, said that she was pleased with several aspects of the new guidance. She cited in particular the department’s statements that it is a school’s responsibility, not a student’s, to gather evidence, and that the accused student must be informed in writing of the allegations before being asked to respond. Ms. Hamill said schools often did not give the accused much detail about the charges they were facing.
On Friday, the department cited a decision last year in a lawsuit Ms. Hamill brought against Brandeis University. Her client, a student, had been found responsible for sexual misconduct against his ex-boyfriend during their 21-month relationship.