Lawmakers Call For Removal Of Education Dept. Civil Rights Chief After College Rape Claims

A week after the head of the Department of Education’s Civil Rights division publicly apologized for making an unsubstantiated and unsourced claim that nine in 10 sexual assault and harassment allegations are baseless and can be tied back to nothing more than too much drinking and bad breakups, lawmakers are calling for the her removal.

Senators Richard Blumenthal (CT), Clair McCaskill (MO), and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to remove Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson from her position as the top official in charge of enforcing rights protections at institutions of higher education.

In a letter [PDF] to DeVos, the senators raise concerns regarding both Jackson’s comments and actions taken by the Department, that they believe “have the potential to systemically undermine critical protections for students under Title IX specific to the safeguards for victims of campus sexual assault.”

The Claim & Apology

Jackson addressed campus sexual assault last week in an interview about the Trump administration’s plan to review so-called Title IX civil rights disputes, involving sexual discrimination.

During the New York Times interview, Jackson noted that, in her opinion, “the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”

When Consumerist inquired about Jackson’s 90% claims and her sourcing, the Department of Education issued an apology on her behalf. However, this isn’t enough, the lawmakers told DeVos.

Call For Dismissal

“The remarks were not just ‘flippant;’ they were ignorant and dangerous,” the lawmakers wrote. “These comments, along with a series of other actions taken by Jackson to weaken OCR protections for students show that she is unqualified for the position and should be removed as Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.”

The lawmakers point to an internal staff memo from Jackson to OCR’s regional directors instructing them to narrow the scope of investigations related to Title IX postsecondary education sexual violence complaints.

They also cite several Department actions that suggest it will step back from its commitment to enforce Title IX.

For instance, during DeVos’ Jan. 17 confirmation hearing she refused to commit to upholding the guidance set forth in a 2011 letter by OCR.

Then in May, the fiscal year 2018 budget request submitted by the Department of Education decreased funding for OCR, which would resume in 46 fewer full-time staff members. This, despite the fact that the Department acknowledged that OCR had seen a significant uptick in the number of complaints it receives each year.

Additionally, the senators note that just last week the Department suggested that it would be changing the way it handles complaints of sexual violence during a series of Title IX listening sessions.

During these sessions, DeVos stated that, “there was a time when women were essentially dismissed.” To this, the lawmakers contend that many survivors of campus sexual violence continue to be dismissed.

“We are frustrated and appalled by the fact that the Department appears to be abandoning its long-standing commitment to holding educational institutions accountable for protecting students from sexual harassment, including sexual violence,” the senators write.

The lawmakers ask DeVos to provide written response to the letter by Aug. 15 and request a personal meeting with the Secretary to discuss the importance of sexual assault protection for all students.

Consumerist has reached out to the Department for comment on the senators’ letter. We’ll update this post when we hear back.

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