U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' plans to change the way colleges and university handle allegations of sexual violence on campus drew a mixed reaction in Minnesota on Thursday, worrying some and heartening others.
"I applaud this," Ryan Pacyga, a Minneapolis attorney who defended a Gophers football player accused of sexual assault last year, said of DeVos' speech at George Mason University in Virginia announcing the plans.
"Anybody going through these sorts of allegations knows, or learns quickly, that the deck is stacked against them," he said. "These cases can become a runaway train without even a semblance of due process."
Caroline Palmer, an attorney with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, fears it will be a setback for victims.
"We are really concerned for what this might mean for all the progress that has been made," she said. "Are we going to see campuses not giving this the same attention?"
In practice, though, little may change on campus even if the government abandons current guidelines, says Kathryn Nash, a Minneapolis attorney who will be working with DeVos' deputies to draft new regulations.
At this point, many colleges have spent years revising their policies and practices, "and I don't see them moving away from that," said Nash, a leading national expert on campus sexual assault.
She noted that they're also required by a 2014 law, the Violence Against Women Act, to conduct fair and thorough investigations.
At St. Olaf College in Northfield, Vice President Carl Crosby Lehmann bristled at some of DeVos' comments, but said he saw little to worry about.
"I take some heart," he said, "that it's not going to lead to significant changes that will require us to go back to the drawing board completely."
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384