Many American colleges have headed back to class this week. And what better time than the start of a new academic year to introduce a huge overhaul of campus sexual assault rules?
That’s exactly what Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is planning, according to Thursday’s New York Times.
Per their report:
The proposed rules, obtained by The New York Times, narrow the definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses. They would also establish a higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly addressed complaints…The new rules would adopt a new Supreme Court definition of ‘sexual harassment’ that appears to be reserved for repeated complaints or the most egregious allegations. The new rules would define sexual harassment to mean ‘unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.’
DeVos’s proposals are being characterised as a means of making it easier to get away with sexual harassment and assault. Rolling Stone accuses the Education Secretary of ‘listening to the men’s rights groups she’s met with’.
But Cockburn wonders whether her fervour for due process and the rights of the accused comes from a higher place?
Betsy’s support of the Willow Creek megachurch in Illinois is long-standing: her husband Dick chairs the Willow Creek Association board, and the couple have donated millions to its charities. And the Willow Creek congregation have borne witness to what happens when a man is tried in the court of public opinion, after its founder, Pastor Bill Hybels, found himself the subject of a Chicago Tribune investigation into decades of sexual misconduct:
The alleged behaviour included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the Tribune found.
‘This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified,’ Hybels told the Tribune.‘I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.’
Following the Tribune’s investigation, the Willow Creek Association board nobly accepted Pastor Hybels decision to bring forward his planned retirement. ‘Bill decided that it would be best for him to step off the Board, and after discussion and prayer it was agreed upon together,’ wrote Dick DeVos in a message to the Willow Creek community.
Given the recent scandals at Michigan State, USC and Ohio State, Cockburn wonders how many university doctors and wrestling coaches might be bringing their retirements forward under the new DeVos rules.