U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's recent reference to the "failed system" she perceives as being present on college campuses across the country has nothing to do with academics.
Rather, it has everything to do with the treatment accorded student suspects in campus-based hearings focused upon sexual misconduct allegations.
DeVos's comments presage a reworking of government rules applicable to college policies and standards. She takes pains to note that, notwithstanding her concern for what she sees as a diminution of suspects' rights, she is equally focused upon the concerns of victims and accusers.
"One rape [or assault] is one too many," she told an audience earlier this month at a college near the nation's capital.
It is clear from DeVos's remarks that she also feels that reform measures strongly pushed during the Obama administration that were widely adopted on campuses nationally have led to unduly harsh treatment and unfair outcomes for many individuals accused of sex crimes. A system of hearing rules and procedures that lacks in sophistication and impartiality "has clearly pushed schools to overreach," she says.
And in doing so, she contends, alleged wrongdoers too often suffer life-long adverse effects even without reasonable proof existing to support their guilt.
From our studied view on the inside of the criminal justice system at the Knoxville criminal defense firm of Hindman & Lanzon, we understand the secretary's comments. It is critical that victims' rights and sensitivities be respected, but a truly fair justice system also provides for the impartial and equitable treatment of parties accused of wrongdoing.
"The unfortunate reality," we note on firm's website, "is that accusations of sexual abuse are sometimes made without any hard evidence to support the claim."
That reality promises to be much debated in the wake of Secretary DeVos's recent comments.