Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday defended the guidance her agency issued last fall providing instruction to campuses on how to handle sexual assault complaints, telling reporters that she "would hate to think" that the rules she issued "had a chilling effect" on any victim or survivor.
"I don't think that the interim guidance that we provided ultimately really does that in any way," DeVos told a small group of reporters, according to Politico. "And again, I hope that nobody who has been involved in any kind of a sexual assault would feel in any way impeded from coming forward and telling their story."
Last fall, DeVos issued interim guidance that raised the standard of proof for those making accusations of sexual violence to "clear and convincing evidence" from the Obama-era "preponderance of evidence" standard.
DeVos's guidance also allowed cases to be settled in mediation sessions and dropped the time frames for completing such investigations.
That was a significant shift from Obama-era guidance that increased the obligation of colleges and universities to respond to claims of sexual assault and misconduct. The Obama-era rules had been criticized by some conservative and men's rights groups, which said that the rules were biased against the largely male accused.
When she announced her decision last year, DeVos said the Obama-era rules had created a "failed system" that violated the due process rights of students and called for a process that is "fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes."
However, critics of DeVos's guidance say that the department's current policy discriminates against victims and survivors, making it more difficult for them to learn, and that it discourages victims of sexual crimes on college campuses to report those crimes.
Earlier this year, several civil rights groups challenged the changes, saying it discriminated against students who report sexual assault.
The Education Department has not commented on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.