Dozens of people who said they were victims of sexual assault by doctors at three major universities urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to make campuses accountable for investigating abuse allegations in a letter released Thursday.
The Education Department is considering new guidelines that could change the way allegations are investigated under Title IX of federal civil rights law. DeVos has called for a “more balanced approach” that respects the rights of the accused, especially students.
The letter is signed by 80 people who said they were assaulted by doctors Larry Nassar of Michigan State University, George Tyndall of the University of Southern California or the late Richard Strauss of Ohio State University. Nassar is in prison, while Tyndall has denied the allegations and hasn’t been charged with a crime.
The victims are especially concerned about ordering colleges to allow cross-examination in student-discipline cases involving assault allegations.
“That should not be the price of coming forward to report abuse,” they wrote. “If it is, too many survivors would be deterred from moving forward on their complaints.”
A federal appeals court, however, recently said universities must allow some form of cross-examination. The decision applies to schools in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee after a student who quit rather than face expulsion sued the University of Michigan.
The victims said universities should be allowed to investigate assaults by students that are alleged to have occurred off campus.
Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said any proposed changes haven’t been released yet.
“I can tell you that the secretary is committed to Title IX reforms that will ensure survivors feel empowered to come forward, all students are afforded due process, universities have clear rules to follow and all institutions that fall short will be held accountable for violations of federal law,” Hill said.
Separately, the leaders of Princeton University, the University of Wisconsin and Rutgers University wrote a letter to DeVos expressing their “deep concern” that the government might drop civil rights protections under Title IX for transgender students.
“This is no time for the country to turn its back on these valued members of our communities,” they wrote.