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ISU Eyes Proposed Policy Changes To Sexual Assault Investigations

Jacquelyn Martin
The Associated Press
Meghan Downey, 22, a recent graduate from the College of William & Mary, reacts outside an auditorium after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke about proposed changes to Title IX, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday she plans to end the Obama administration’s rules for investigating allegations of sexual violence on campus.

“The era of ‘rule by letter’ is over,” DeVos said as she announced plans to review and replace the way colleges and university handle investigations.

The Obama administration guidance on federal Title IX protections was originally delivered in a letter to schools. DeVos said it has failed many students and done a “disservice to everyone involved.”

DeVos said schools are committing discrimination if they fail to take seriously a student who reports sexual misconduct. And she says those that use “a system biased toward finding a student responsible for sexual misconduct” also are committing discrimination.

Title IX protections are an important legal concept at campuses like Illinois State University that receive federal funding. If found in violation of Title IX guidance, ISU is at risk of losing those federal funds.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities in federally funded schools at all levels. ISU’s Title IX coordinator, Tony Walesby, directs the university’s coordination of related education, training, and prevention program and monitors the campus climate.

Walesby said Thursday that he’s interested to see what the government puts forth. ISU has “taken these matters seriously for decades,” he said, and it wants to stay compliant.

“We’ve balanced the rights of all parties in these matters,” Walesby said. “So when I watched (DeVos’) remarks on Thursday, I thought, some of the things she was emphasizing—in terms of the rights of the accused, and a fair approach—all those things are currently what Illinois State is doing.”

He added: “We’re always interested in hearing feedback from our students, faculty, and staff in terms of how things are going. But I think our process right now is a very fair one, a very thorough one.”

DeVos said Thursday that the Obama administration “weaponized” the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to “work against schools and against students.”

Walesby previously worked as an investigator for OCR.

“I know that schools have sometimes felt that the government has put a lot of emphasis on (Title IX) and has been less willing to help out, and I know that’s what (DeVos) said on Thursday,” Walesby said. “But my experience is that the government has been helpful in these areas.”

Illinois Wesleyan University also would be affected by changes to Title IX policy.

"Regardless of changes at the federal level, Illinois Wesleyan remains committed to creating and sustaining a campus free of sexual violence," said Karla Carney-Hall, IWU's vice president for student affairs and dean of students. "We will always provide support for victims of sexual assault, harassment and domestic violence. And we remain deeply committed to fair campus judicial processes for all students involved."

DeVos said the Department of Education will seek public comment and university expertise to develop rules to replace the current policy.

WGLT's full story about Title IX

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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