By Robert Craig Baum
July 16, 2017

According to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration, disability rights, hate crimes, predatory lending, or heading off an impending economic bubble rooted in student loan defaults are not the most pressing higher education matters. Instead, they’re focusing on establishing the terms and conditions for the legal redress of “false allegations” against the “victims”: students wrongly accused of sexual assault.

Save Our Sons, a group that advocates for “families whose college sons have been falsely accused of sexual misconduct” has been pushing for this day for years. Finally, after what the accused see as decades of abuse from the federal government’s Title IX protections and equity initiatives on college campuses, the supposed victims of wrongful sexual harassment claims have had an audience with the secretary of education.

By meeting with these accused sexual assaulters, the federal government risks creating and reinforcing a climate of intimidation against those who report them.

From my two-plus decades of higher education experience, I can assure DeVos that she has been misled by the victim’s rights advocates. No cabal of disgruntled feminists roam campuses in wolf packs looking to devour men. (Note: College-age students who identify as male are no longer “boys” needing protection of their mommies. They are adults.) Furthermore, faculty members, administrators, and students on equity committees and other Title IX-supervised programs don’t take their duties lightly. In fact, the process can often take longer to complete because of the amount of care that goes into making sure all complainants are fairly represented.

It’s important to note that Title IX protections and the campus equity systems were created to protect all students from a wide variety of predatory behaviors. These include sexual advances from professors, harassment in the college workplace, inappropriate behavior during an internship, and intimidation by advisors and other supervisors in the undergraduate and graduate classroom and degree completion process. In other words, Title IX protects everyone. It is wrong to reduce the problem of sexual abuse, harassment, assault, and cyberbullying to a stereotypical “he said/she said” drama with a cast of characters that only include drunk, horny college students.

DeVos is correct, however, to take seriously accusations of any due process failures. But let’s say abuses are found: Does this mean President Trump will demand further roll backs of Title IX protections as he demanded back in February? Is this yet another example of the administration’s “repeal and replace” obsession that’s ironically clogging the DC swamp drain? In the absence of offering any realistic solution to the problem of false accusations of sexual assault, DeVos’s effort appears hollow.

The education secretary’s Thursday meeting with the accused means that some damage has already been done. But DeVos has a chance to repair the intense negative reaction she’s generated. Should she lead an effort to truly uncover and analyze the root causes of campus sexual harassment and assault (including a national review of campus drug and alcohol policies), and develop practical solutions involving all relevant parties, we might still see a positive outcome to an ugly situation.

Robert Craig Baum is a former humanities professor, curriculum designer, and academic dean. He is a writer, publisher, and producer; and contributor to http://www.precaricorps.org.

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