Betsy DeVos is trying to make women second class citizens, says leading Title IX lawyer

‘Why on earth would anyone want to change a law that guarantees equality and safety?’

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced sweeping but vague changes to Title IX law this morning, promising to end Obama's sexual assault guidelines.

"The system established by the prior administration has failed too many students," she said. "The era of ‘rule by letter’ is over."

It is unclear what she plans to replace it with, so we spoke to Title IX expert Wendy Murphy, a lawyer on the frontlines of the campus rape cases and professor at the New England School of Law, to ask what this means.

What's going to change?

The Dear Colleague letter from 2011 remains intact, but what she's going to do is impose new regulations. Those take time, so nothing's changing today but it appears when she says the era of regulating by letter is over, I took that to mean she's revoking the entire letter, or do it once the regulations are in place.

In any case, what's disturbing to me is that she is going to undertake to change the regulations. Those are as enforceable as a matter of law. They're as powerful as Title IX itself. What I hear her saying is she plans to weaken Title IX by changing the regulations. Those regulations currently promise women equitable and fully equal treatment on campus and protection from all forms of sex discrimination, including sexual assault. That's all they do, they promise equality, equitable treatment and they require schools to treat violence against women exactly the same as violence on the basis of race and national origin.

She intends to develop new regulations that will declare women as a matter of federal law, second class citizens at every school nationwide, K-12 all the way through college and graduate schools.

That's frightening.

That's what I hear her saying. She said she's going to put it out for public debate. But here's the thing, and this is critically important. Those regulations nearly provide full equality and safety for all women and girls in all schools in this country. Why on earth would anyone want to change a mandate that guarantees equality and safety? That's all it does. The regulations don't say "treat accused students unfairly." They don't say "you must investigate or not investigate."

They simply say you cannot discriminate on the basis of sex and that women and girls are allowed to learn in an environment free from hostility, free from violence, free from discrimination which includes sexual assault. That is a perfect federal regulation. It doesn't go too far. Who in their right minds would say that a guarantee of safety and equality goes too far? And that's what I heard her saying.

If she dares weaken Title IX by amending the regulation, she will face lawsuits from every state in this country. She won't even get to that point. She will face lawsuits on the grounds that she's acting in violation of women's constitutional rights, discriminating against women and girls by proposing regulations that subject only sex-based harm to second class treatment on campus. She cannot do that. She is not God. She is not the President. She is not Congress. She cannot propose to weaken Title IX with a regulatory sign of her pen.