(Reuters) - U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will issue new rules to colleges and universities for addressing sexual harassment or assault cases, lessening their liability for incidents that happen off-campus, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
The new policies would also strengthen the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape and seek to provide more support for victims, the Times reported.
Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill declined to discuss the proposed recommendations with Reuters.
“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment,” Hill said.
The report was published on the same day that officials said a former University of Southern California (USC) gynaecologist, George Tyndall, accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of students, had agreed to a suspension of his medical licence..
The Education Department is investigating how USC handled that case after the university acknowledged failing to properly act on at least eight complaints lodged against Tyndall between 2000 and 2014.
Last year, the administration of Republican President Donald Trump reversed guidelines established under President Barack Obama, a Democrat, on how colleges should handle sexual assault accusations, saying the prior policies led to too many students being falsely charged or disciplined.
The prior rules outlined a strict set of steps for schools to follow or risk losing funding under Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in education.
According to the New York Times, the rules being prepared by DeVos’ office would preserve much of Title IX but would also for the first time legally define sexual harassment on campuses and how schools were expected to address formal complaints.
The proposals would hold colleges and universities responsible only for incidents on campus or in their programs and call for impartiality in investigating allegations and using the presumption that the accused student or staff member is innocent until proven guilty, the newspaper reported.
“The proposed campus sexual misconduct policies from Betsy DeVos and her Department of Education are just the latest example of the Trump administration turning its back on women and victims of sexual assault,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
“These proposed rules are a blatant and disturbing attack on every student who has experienced or could experience sexual assault or misconduct on a college campus, and they exemplify the misplaced priorities of DeVos and the Trump administration,” the DNC said.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Grant McCool