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DeVos right to revisit Title IX

President Donald Trump’s comments about groping women (and alleged actions) and questions about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ competence have created concern about her decision to revisit Obama administration Title IX edicts on sexual harassment.

DeVos displayed her ignorance of public education during Senate hearings and championed Michigan’s charter schools, although 70 percent occupied the bottom half of the state’s 2016 rankings, according to the nonpartisan Education Trust-Midwest.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibited sexual discrimination in programs receiving federal aid and have been a boon to women in academics and athletics.

But Obama administration directives — beginning in 2011 with a “Dear Colleague” letter intended to force colleges to deal with a plague of sexual violence — were a heavy-handed overreaction.

Colleges were told to use the lowest possible burden of proof, a “preponderance of evidence” or a 50.1 percent likelihood of guilt. They were encouraged to use a “single investigator” model — a staff member investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating. The accused was restricted from questioning the victim’s account and, frequently, from having legal representation.

Sexual violence included “rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion,” with no definition for the latter. Sexual harassment was “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including remarks.

It opened a Pandora’s box of problems. In the past year, the American Association of University Professors called for universities to return to the previous standard of “clear and convincing” evidence, which was endorsed by the American College of Trial Lawyers and professors at both Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania law schools.

The Atlantic Monthly recently reviewed cases where colleges made a mockery of common sense and civil liberties using those directives:

Matt Boermeester, a kicker for the University of Southern California’s football, was expelled after a neighbor thought he was hurting his girlfriend, Zoe Katz, a tennis player. The accusation made it to her coach, a mandatory reporter required to tell the Title IX office. Katz insisted she and Boermeester — then her boyfriend of one year and still together now — were playing. He was expelled and is suing USC.

“Matt Boermeester did nothing improper against me, ever. I would not stand for it,” Katz wrote the Los Angeles Times. “Nor will I stand for watching him be maligned and lied about.”

She said Title IX investigators ignored her statements as a “battered” woman.

A University of California student fooling around in bed with his girlfriend in his dorm room, but not having intercourse, was reported by others who felt the couple was too intoxicated for informed consent. The girlfriend denied anything happened, but he was suspended for a semester and required to attend therapy sessions.

Harvard University School of Law professor Janet Halley wrote about an Oregon college student who was instructed to stay away from a female and move from his dorm without being told why until learning he resembled a man who raped her “months before and thousands of miles away.” Although found innocent, the no-contact order wasn’t lifted.

Kwadwo “Kojo” Bonsu, 23, a black student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a white female student didn’t engage in intercourse after smoking marijuana together at a fraternity, but she initiated oral sex. She told an investigator, “(My friend) knows I was with Kojo. She probably told all the brothers in the room, and they’re gonna hate me when they find out … I can never come back here.”

“As my (residence hall adviser) training kicked in, I realized I’d been sexually assaulted,” she stated, adding, “I want to fully own my participation in what happened, but at the same time recognize that I felt violated and that I owe it to myself and others to hold him accountable for something I felt in my bones wasn’t right.”

Bonsu was eventually expelled. He sued the college and reached a settlement.

According to the Atlantic, 170 suits have been filed regarding unfair treatment. The colleges now have lost 60 — more than they’ve won.

The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, which specializes in Title IX cases, wrote in a white paper, “Due Process and the Sex Police,” blasting some college for an “overzealousness to impose sexual correctness.”

Professors must be wary, too.

Northwestern University’s Title IX office investigated feminist film professor Laura Kipnis after she wrote about “sexual paranoia” on campus. When Faculty Senate head Stephen Eisenman called the probe a threat to academic freedom, he faced Title IX charges.

Emory (Ga.) University administrators made author David Samuel Levinson, a visiting fellow, raise a female student’s grade from B-plus to A-minus after she accused him of sexual harassment. He’s gay.

DeVos may be wrong on many issues, but she is right to pursue reform on this one.

Fracturing the GOP: Trump continues a tradition
Jules Witcover: Fracturing the GOP: Trump continues a tradition

President Trump’s sudden pivot to cooperation with congressional leaders to advance hurricane relief and raise the federal debt limit signals a potential disintegration of the Republican Party, as two conservative factions intensify their opposition to its diminishing moderate wing.

Both the House Freedom Caucus, which stands firm against federal expansionism, and Stephen Bannon’s Breitbart News, the ultranationlist and populist website now flexing its muscles, are making rebellious noises. They are aimed not only at Trump but also at House Speaker Paul Ryan as keeper of the GOP establishment flame.

Trump’s decision to start doing business with Capitol Hill Democrats underscored his focus on personal political success over party principles and philosophy. His long losing streak in legislative objectives, from the failure to repeal Obamacare to the failure to finance construction of a wall on the Mexican border, has moved him to unaccustomed bipartisanship.

Ryan so far has seemed to turn the other cheek, saying of Trump’s new willingness to play ball with the equally frustrated congressional Democrats “the president can speak for himself.” Ryan suggested that Trump, judging the sour public mood, had decided “we needed to come together, not to create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis.”

But coming together does not appear to reflect the desires of either the House Freedom Caucus or Bannon’s re-emerging monkey wrench on the political spectrum’s far right. At least for now, the most vocal Trump voting base seems more willing to fight than to switch.

This internal Republican conflict has begun to fan speculation of yet another of the GOP resurrections that over party history have briefly flared up over the past century and a half. In the 1860s, Republican congressional foes bucked President Andrew Johnson’s post-Civil War reconstruction plans as too accommodating toward the defeated Southern states. The Senate failed to impeach him by a single vote, and he finished his term but yielded the presidency in 1868 to General U.S. Grant, easily nominated by the Republicans.

In 1912, another GOP breach occurred when former President Theodore Roosevelt broke with his anointed successor President William Howard Taft and started the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party. But both lost in the Republican split to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

In 1992, Texas businessman tycoon Ross Perot formed the independent Reform Party and won 19 percent of the vote but ran third after Democratic winner Bill Clinton and Republican George H.W. Bush.

Also in 1992, former Richard Nixon aide Patrick Buchanan ran against Bush for the Republican nomination but lost after winning 3 million votes in the party primaries. Four years later Buchanan ran again on the Reform Party ticket and won the New Hampshire primary, but lost the GOP nomination to Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

In 2016, Trump as a former nominal Democrat took on a large field of hopeful Republicans against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was led by early frontrunner and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of the Republican family dynasty.

Trump, in a slashing and brutal personal campaign against the youngest son and brother of the two Bush presidents, humiliated him as “a low-energy candidate” and routed him with the rest of the Republican field en route to his 2016 election over Clinton. Her own campaign was marred by a Democratic split wherein affirmed party socialist candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders drew heavy liberal support.

Clinton won the presidential popular vote by about 3 million ballots but lost to Trump in the Electoral College. He later blamed that defeat on voter fraud, an allegation widely repudiated by state elections officials.

Trump entered the presidency on the strength of his personal appeal to voters frustrated by partisan Washington divisions and vowing to “drain the swamp” of them. But his failure to do so has now led him to make least temporary accommodation with the congressional Democratic minority, to break the long legislative deadlock.

At stake may now be not only the Trump agenda and presidency but also the future of the Grand Old Party, born out of civil war and sustained until now despite frequent internal ideological skirmishes, like the one now emerging.

Republican rebels under attack
Albert R. Hunt: Republican rebels under attack

The super PAC set up by allies of Sen. Mitch McConnell to keep Republicans in power has spent almost $5 million in this election cycle. Under normal circumstances, that would be good news for the party, an indication of its financial strength and tactical savvy. Today it’s bad news, because more than 80 percent of the money has gone to attacking Republican rebels who are challenging party incumbents.

Much of the cash has been pouring in to a special Senate contest in Alabama, where a far-right challenger to McConnell’s favored candidate is leading in a race to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There’s a similar dynamic at play in Arizona, where a McConnell-friendly Republican is facing a formidable insurgent in 2018. Other tests are ahead.

At the White House, President Donald Trump does more to provoke party combat than to make peace; he has no allegiance to Republicans. Steve Bannon, his venomous alt-right political guru, told Charlie Rose last week on “60 Minutes” he’s eager to take out Republicans he considers too moderate or insufficiently supportive of Trump.

The consequences for next year’s elections are to imperil Republican control of the House and put Senate leaders on the defensive. Instead of focusing on four races where they thought they could add to their two-seat majority, they have to guard against losing a couple.

A prime indicator of this bitter divide is the way the McConnell-controlled political action committee spends its money. At this stage two years ago, the Senate Leadership Fund hadn’t spent a penny on election contests, and for the entire 2016 cycle it doled out just $482,000 against Republican challengers. It’s already spent eight times that much this year against Republicans.

The Alabama primary is where McConnell is trying to protect Sen. Luther Strange, appointed after Sessions went to the Justice Department. But Strange is trailing the right-wing former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore. Moore was removed twice from his judicial post, once for defying a federal judge’s order to move a Ten Commandments monument from his courtroom and then for ordering state judges to withhold marriage licenses from gay and lesbian couples despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex unions.

The two Senate Republican incumbents most vulnerable to Democrats in 2018, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada, also face primary challenges from Trumpist candidates. Flake’s outspoken criticism has earned him special enmity from the White House, and McConnell’s PAC is attacking his main primary challenger, Kelli Ward.

Bannon met last week with Danny Tarkanian, the Nevada Republican whom he’s supporting in a primary challenge against Heller. The Trump confidant, who left the White House last month but remains close to the president, said in the “60 Minutes” interview he considered McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to be political enemies, accused the Roman Catholic church of pandering to “illegal aliens” and charged that three foreign-policy advisers to Republican presidents, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Brent Scowcroft, are “idiots.”

Initially, Republicans thought they’d be able to focus their energy on adding to their Senate majority by going after Democratic incumbents in states that went overwhelmingly for Trump, like West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. Bitter Republican primaries could jeopardize these prospects.

The civil war also is threatening the party in House elections. Some House moderates, like Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent, are retiring, sick of fighting the Trump element. Look for more Republican retirements in the weeks ahead.

Here’s another indicator: In 2015, House Republicans turned to Ryan to unify the party after pushing out Speaker John Boehner. Trump, however, has not hidden his disdain for Ryan. That’s had an effect. At a candidate forum at the Minnesota State Fair in August, four Republican candidates in swing districts refused to commit themselves to supporting Ryan’s re-election as speaker.