Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized the way universities handle sexual assault and harassment complaints in a speech at George Mason University last week.
Title IX coordinator for WSU, Kimberly Anderson, said Devos’ criticism was not a reflection of WSU’s Student Conduct process.
Specifically, DeVos said the process is stacked against the accused and complainants are denied due process because they are not explicitly given the opportunity to view both parties’ evidence, cross examine witnesses and are not always provided legal advice.
“Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach is a disservice to everyone involved,” DeVos said.
DeVos said the current guidelines, put in place by Former President Barack Obama’s administration, do not make clear to the accused that their fate is not predetermined.
Anderson, who also directs the Office of Equal Opportunity, said the university’s current policies already address her concerns.
Current standard of proof adhere to the principle of “Preponderance of Evidence,” which is the lowest standard of proof, Anderson said.
Universities use this standard because they are not pursuing a criminal conviction when responding to complaints, she said. To be criminally convicted of sexual assault, evidence must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but much less is needed to prove Student Conduct violations.
“It is a neutral standard where you weigh both sides,” Anderson said, “and whichever side has more evidence and a more convincing argument would [prove their case].”
DeVos recalled students telling her stories where their universities opened Title IX investigations without letting them know.
Anderson said this would not happen at WSU.
“What is really required of due process is notice and opportunity to respond,” she said, “and we definitely give students that.”
Anderson said one of the first steps of WSU’s Title IX investigation process is to contact the accused, describing their rights, the allegations against them and offer an opportunity to provide their own testimony and evidence.
While DeVos said both survivors and the accused might not be allowed legal representation, Anderson said WSU’s Dean of Students would help students better understand the process and help them connect with legal advice, if they needed it.
“Information is readily available, we are happy to answer questions and provide context and explanations as the investigations goes on,” she said.
In her speech, DeVos communicated her goals regarding Title IX during her time as Education Secretary. She did not announce official policy changes.
In contrast to the stories in DeVos’ speech, Anderson said she is confident WSU’s process is fair and goes beyond the due process requirements, but she could not speak on how other universities interpret current requirements.
“No two processes are the same,” Anderson said. “I think we are doing considerably more than the schools she was referencing.”