Md. university system ‘concerned’ about new campus sexual assault rules

University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman is expressing concern about a new federal policy that reshapes how America’s schools and universities respond to sexual misconduct.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled the new policy last week, which bolsters the rights of the accused and narrows the scope of cases that colleges are required to investigate.

“The University System is concerned about these new regulations,” said Perman in a statement Monday.

“The new rules impose a costly, expanded regulatory burden on our institutions, and we believe they may discourage survivors of sexual assault from coming forward.”

Perman said the fact that the policy was released during the coronavirus pandemic would complicate the system’s ability to implement the new rules in time for the next academic year.

“Despite this, we remain committed to reducing incidents of sexual misconduct on campus, respecting the rights of every student, and providing an adjudicatory process that’s fair to all parties,” he said.

DeVos’ changes narrow the definition of sexual harassment and require colleges to investigate claims only if they’re reported to certain officials.

Schools can be held accountable for mishandling complaints only if they acted with “deliberate indifference.” Students will be allowed to question one another through representatives during live hearings.

“We released a final rule that recognizes we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence and due process,” DeVos said.

DeVos clarified that dating violence, stalking and domestic violence also must be addressed under Title IX, and she added new language ordering schools to provide special support for victims regardless of whether they file a formal complaint.

Title IX is the 1972 law barring discrimination based on sex in education. The law and DeVos’ regulation apply to the nation’s colleges and universities, along with elementary and secondary schools.

The changes take effect Aug. 14.

DeVos’ policy was condemned by opponents who say it weakens protections for victims and will discourage many from reporting misconduct. The National Women’s Law Center promised to take legal action.

In his comments Monday, Perman acknowledged lawsuits may change the timeline for when the new rules must be implemented, but he said that schools should be prepared to comply.

“There may be legal action across the country that may, in fact, alter the date, but we cannot count on that,” Perman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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