From Duke Cheston at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy comes a discussion of a new federal policy that seriously weakens protections for college students accused of sexual assault. This is ominous for those falsely accused.

In April 2011, the Obama administration’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges, universities, and schools across the country to explain newly created federal rules on dealing with sexual violence. A major change was to lower the burden of proof for colleges to punish students for sexual assault, which ranges from attempted forced kissing up to and including rape.

These new rules were touted as a way of promoting “enhanced equity.” But, in reality, the new rules rather inequitably reduce the protections of those who are accused (mostly males).

The new rules ostensibly come from a reinterpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that prohibits colleges that receive federal funds from discriminating based on gender—best known for requiring women’s sports to be treated equally to men’s. Arguing that sexual assault is a form of gender discrimination, the office decreed a handful of new regulations.

The most aggressive new interpretation was a mandate that colleges and universities lower the burden of proof when deciding cases of assault. The bar was dropped to the lowest possible standard, a “preponderance of evidence.” In other words, a college disciplinary committee merely needs to decide that an accused individual is more likely to have committed a crime than not.  Those deciding the case must be only 50.1 percent sure of guilt. That standard is lower than the one used in criminal cases, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and generally thought of in numeric terms as 98 percent sure.