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Civil rights attorney: Universities lack due process in sexual assault policies

Gage Skidmore
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is aiming to change Obama-era sexual assault policies for college campuses.

Michigan universities say they will not immediately implement new federal guidance on campus sexual assault.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently announced that her department would rescinded the Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault.

The new guidanceis not mandatory, and Education Department officials say it's temporary until they come up with new rules.

Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, says Michigan's universities have been working to improve the culture of sexual assault on campus for years.

One part of the new guidance lets schools use a lower standard of evidence when judging accusations of sexual assault. Another allows schools to use mediation for an informal resolution of a sexual assault case.

“I think the issue is not so much sexual assault on campus, as it is these universities allowing young people to drink way too much alcohol. They do not enforce their rules,” said Bloomfield Hills civil rights attorney Deborah Gordon, who has represented men accused of sexual assault at universities and women who have faced workplace and pregnancy discrimination.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 protects against, on the basis of sex, being “denied the benefits of … any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Many consider sexual assault to fall into that category.

But Gordon disagrees. Colleges like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University “hide behind” Title IX rules and create expansive and often over-reaching definitions of sexual assault, she said.

The result, she argues, is that men are often accused of actions Gordon does not consider to be sexual assault; are denied basic due process protections, such as the ability to question one’s accuser; and are expelled from the school.

A recent decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a University of Cincinnati student who was suspended for sexual assault after he was denied the ability to cross-examine his accuser.

Gordon is optimistic about the recent moves by the Department of Education to rescind the Obama-era regulations. “Now people are getting the memo, ‘Wait a minute, people’s rights are being violated.’”

Listen above for the full conversation with Bloomfield Hills civil rights attorney Deborah Gordon.

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