Opinion

Top Five Reasons to Loathe Betsy DeVos Today

You might’ve lost sight of Betsy DeVos lately. The fall foliage has obscured a solid view of her yacht and her hellscape of a summer house has been closed up for the season.

But we’re here with a pumpkin-spiced update on how Betsy is destroying our country this month. On Friday, the Department of Education (DOE) released its new plan for Title IX on college campuses. That plan will now head into public comment period before taking on the force of law. Spoiler alert: Betsy’s DOE seems to be following the Georgetown Prep model. Here are the top five on the list of “of course she did”:

She says that schools don’t have to investigate sexual assault or harassment unless it’s reported to certain campus officials.

Picture it: your teenage daughter tells you that she has been the victim of sexual misconduct. She hasn’t reported it to the cops or to her school principal, because she’s not ready to be further traumatized. You call the school guidance counselor who tells you that the school won’t even investigate, and that yeah, that “alleged sexual predator” is absolutely playing in the football game this weekend.

Schools are supposed to at least try and protect the kids in their care. It’s a difficult task without easy answers, but they hardly need more permission to shirk their responsibilities. Every credible complaint should be properly investigated.  No conditions, no limitations.  End. Of. Story.

The Hunting Ground came out almost four years ago, people. Maybe someone could cue it up for Besty?

Any rule that limits a school’s responsibility to investigate sexual misconduct is willfully blind to the realities of sexual violence generally. Victims are often slow to report. Perpetrators are often repeat offenders. A school which operates under the policy that only officially-reported misconduct is worth checking out creates risk for every student.

She’s shrinking the definition of “sexual harassment.”

Harassment is different from assault, and a nuanced understanding of the relationship between the two predatory behaviors is critical to anyone working in this area. Obama-era guidance defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” which is a broad definition sufficient to encompass the many forms non-criminal sexual misconduct may take.

Betsy’s new rules change things such that sexual harassment is only that misconduct that is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the schools education program or activity.”

That’s a huge change.

In other words, harassment will now be fine as long as it doesn’t hurt the victim’s grades. Oh, and it’s not enough that the victim was traumatized. The behavior has to be “objectively offensive.” I couldn’t possibly see any misconduct falling through those gaping cracks.

This proposed change would make rules at the university level more like employment laws that define harassment. I know this might be a surprise to Betsy, who hasn’t spent much time as either a student or an employee, but college campuses aren’t workplaces. College students are teenagers, most of who are living independently for the first time. The college environment is nothing like a workplace. I mean even the most fun coworkers aren’t usually hosting weekly keggers, sharing shower caddies, or pulling all-nighters.

College is a unique environment in which kids are exposed to unprecedented risk – particularly with regard to sexual misconduct. Schools have a responsibility to do everything possible to raise the bar on safety. Constricting what counts as actionable misbehavior is moving things globally off-course.

She’s changing the standard of proof for sexual misconduct consequences on campus.

Under the guise of “fairness,” Betsy is ready to allow schools to use the higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof when evaluating sexual misconduct. Under Obama guidance, schools used a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which means that a finding would be proper if the allegation “more likely than not” was true. Under Betsy’s heightened standard, it requires something much closer to a criminal-level of proof.

I know this sounds like good, solid, due process. But there’s the same misunderstanding going on here that happened with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Not every hearing is a criminal trial. We employ high standards of proof when an accused risks incarceration or other serious limitations on liberty. By contrast, students do not have a constitutional right to attend college. Disciplining – or even expelling—a student is wildly different from sentencing a person to jail-time. A lower standard of proof is perfectly appropriate and proportional for a campus hearing.

She’s on board with having sexual assault victims cross-examined.

Once again, DeVos’ guidance appears to confuse colleges with courthouses. Her proposed rules which would reinstate the ability for an accused to cross-examine their accuser are beyond misguided. Cross-examination of a complaining witness is perfectly appropriate in court. But cross-examination of a victimized student is not a great idea. In fact, the risk of further traumatizing a victim may be magnified on a campus setting; in a courtroom, the rules of evidence would be strictly applied. The cross-examiner would be an attorney, bound by the rule of law and canons of legal ethics. The judge would be an impartial arbiter who is skilled at the respectful handling of victim-witnesses. By contrast, whatever professor is presiding over a campus hearing might be everything from clueless to biased. Not a good way to preserve the dignity of the process – or of a victim.

Money, money, money.

If none of the above reasons are convincing you that this woman is a vile scourge on our DOE, I’ve got 19.8 million more. It’s being reported that taxpayers will be footing a $19.8 million bill to keep Betsy safe. Newly-ousted AG Jeff Sessions okayed the expense last February, after DeVos’ visit to a Washington middle school was protested.

DeVos, by the way, is the only cabinet secretary with U.S. Marshal protection; usually, we like to reserve law enforcement officers for things like protecting federal judges or catching bad guys. One would think a safety-conscious Betsy could call in a favor from her brother, who owns a government-contracted security company. But alas, they’re apparently not that kind of family.

The wasted $19 million in taxpayer funds, though, isn’t nearly as infuriating as the blatant hypocrisy here. At the expense of our federal government, Betsy DeVos has entitled herself to top-notch private security. Safety, it seems, is a top priority to her. Just as long as that safety is her own, and not that of a college student.

[Image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

  1. Mediaite
  2. The Mary Sue
  3. RunwayRiot
  4. Law & Crime
  5. Gossip Cop
  6. AmboTV