ARLINGTON, Va. – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declared Thursday that “the era of 'rule by letter' is over” as she announced plans to change the way colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual assault on campus.
DeVos vowed to replace a set of rules enacted by the Obama administration in a 2011 memo known as the “Dear Colleague Letter,” which she said created a system that failed students.
“Instead of working with schools on behalf of students, the prior administration weaponized the Office for Civil Rights to work against schools and against students,” she said in a speech at George Mason University.
DeVos repeatedly spoke about protecting the rights of both victims and students who are accused of sexual assault, saying the conversation has wrongly been framed as “a contest between men and women.”
She didn't detail how the rules will change but said her office will seek feedback from the public and universities to develop new rules.
Andrew Miltenberg, a New York lawyer who represents students accused of sexual assault, said he was encouraged by the recognition that accused students have been mistreated.
“Up until now, everyone's been terrified of saying what she said because the fear is it would be seen as being against victims' rights,” he said.
Activists from Know Your IX, an advocacy group for sexual-assault survivors, said the speech sent the message that colleges won't be held accountable for protecting students.