Assistant Education Secretary Candice Jackson and Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Wheeler announced the possibility of rescinding the Obama administration’s infamous Dear Colleague Letter.
Jackson is also a survivor of sexual assault.
The U.S. Department of Education issued the correspondence in 2011. Their objective was to provide “guidance” to educational institutions, urging them to improve investigations and adjudications of campus sexual assault cases.
Three years later, more than fifty schools, including the University of Michigan and Michigan State University received a severe form of “guidance.” The education department formally notified them that their handling of complaints alleging sexual violence and harassment possibly violated federal law.
In spite of a 2016 clarification that the letter did not carry “the force of the law,” college presidents and lawyers continued to allege that the Office for Civil Rights used the Dear Colleague letter to determine violations of Title IX and make threats of withholding federal funding for not complying with their “guidance.”
Critics called it a “gotcha approach” where investigators would go on “fishing expeditions,” searching until they found violations instead of letting the evidence dictate the direction of investigations. In the end, it runs the risk of harming, not helping real victims of sexual assault.
Current U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently informed Congress that the department would take a more neutral stance on sexual violence and harassment investigations. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education applauded the decision.
Supporter believe that a new philosophy will better protect the rights of both complainants and the accused, “guiding” investigations to a much-needed balance that they claim has been missing for years.