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Vol. 81/No. 38      October 16, 2017


Revoked Obama directive had zero to do with
women’s rights

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued interim guidelines Sept. 22 to replace an executive order issued by the Barack Obama administration that gutted the constitutional right to the presumption of innocence in the name of fighting sexual harassment on college campuses.

“One rape is one too many,” DeVos said Sept. 7. “One aggressive act of harassment is one too many.” At the same time, DeVos said, “One person denied due process is one too many.”

Obama’s order, imposed in an April 2011 letter issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, had nothing to do with advancing the fight for women’s equality. Working people and students should celebrate its demise.

The letter reinterpreted Title IX, a 1972 law signed by President Richard Nixon. A by-product of the mass struggle for Black rights and the rise of the women’s liberation movement, Title IX prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” in any education program that gets federal funds.

Title IX was aimed at forcing university administrations to expand basic rights, stopping them from denying equal rights to women. The Obama reinterpretation turned it on its head, giving administrators the power to regulate relations between students.

At the heart of the directive was an attack on democratic rights. When investigating allegations, the letters says, “The school must use a preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred).” This is substantially lower than the “clear and convincing” evidence constitutionally required to find someone guilty in criminal court, an important basic democratic right. It shifts the burden of proof from college administrators onto the accused.

In other words: Guilty until proven innocent.

The letter redefined sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature” — a definition so broad that almost anything was chargeable. It turned over to school administrators the decision whether or not to allow the accused, and the accuser, to have legal counsel during hearings.

The letter threatened to cut off federal funds to any college that didn’t implement its dictates.

The change accelerated the expansion of a massive bureaucracy to investigate alleged offenses. It fueled the naming of thousands of so-called Title IX “coordinators” and set up review boards that act as judge and jury. It encouraged campus officials to “educate” students on proper sexual conduct.

As all too often happens when liberal meritocrats set out to do “good,” they trampled on people’s rights. These programs became entwined with a push to write political correctness into the guidelines on speech and conduct that have mushroomed on campuses everywhere.

A case study
In the opening paragraphs of the “The Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy,” the first of a three-part series in the Atlantic Monthly, Emily Yoffe describes one example of this process, looking at what happened when Kwadwo Bonsu, 23, was accused of sexual assault at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2014.

His accuser’s written account details in her own words that the entire encounter — in which she did not remove any clothing or have intercourse — was consensual, but that at one point she felt uncomfortable. A resident assistant at a dorm, she said that it was only afterwards that, “as my RA training kicked in, I realized I’d been sexually assaulted.”

She filed a complaint with the Amherst police who investigated and closed the case with no charges. She also filed a complaint with the university, which then banned Bonsu from visiting any dormitory other than his own, forbid him from entering the student union, allowed him to go to only one dining hall and warned him to not talk about the allegation.

Though found not guilty, Bonsu was suspended for a year, permanently banned from living on campus and required to get counseling to address his “decision-making” because the university claims he used the woman’s name in an email and sent her a Facebook friend request.

As Yoffe shows, this is not an aberration. The system is stacked to ensure cases like this happen all too often.

Liberal politicians and middle-class leftists are up in arms over the rescinding of the Obama directive. They paint DeVos as a tool of President Donald Trump, whose every action must be dark and reactionary. Twenty-nine Democratic Party senators sent a letter to DeVos Sept. 14 demanding she hold off on changes until there is a “transparent process.” But unlike the Obama executive order, which was implemented with no discussion, the Education Department is soliciting public comments before adopting the new guidelines.

The proponents of political correctness often claim that “campus sexual assault is a national scourge,” despite figures that show that women in college are less likely to be victims of sexual assault than nonstudents.

The fight for women’s emancipation is an essential part of the fight to advance the interests of the working class. There is greater support for women’s rights today than ever. One of the key turning points came when women fought their way into the workforce in larger numbers, especially in traditionally male jobs, including in steel mills and coal mines. As the number of working women grew, their self-confidence grew. They won the support and solidarity of their male co-workers, strengthening the unions and the fight to win a woman’s right to choose abortion.

That’s the road forward, not an assault on basic rights, meritocratic “nudges,” or bureaucratic meddling in the private lives of students.  
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