Betsy DeVos
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at a school choice event watched by President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2017. Getty Image/MANDEL NGAN

Education Secretary Betsy Devos stirred a hornet’s nest with her announcement Thursday to overhaul Obama-era policies on sexual assault on campuses.

Speaking at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, DeVos said the previous administration’s approach had “failed too many students,” and her administration would bring in rules that would protect both the victims of sexual assault as well as the accused.

“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” Devos said. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”

The announcement had been on the cards ever since DeVos met men’s rights group and accused rapists as a part of her consultations on campus sexual assault in July.

As expected, the announcement sparked outrage among advocates for sexual assault victims and officials working with the former administration. Arne Duncan, who was the education secretary during Obama administration, said the Trump administration was playing politics at the cost of students, the New York Times reported.

“This administration wants to take us back to the days when colleges swept sexual assault under the rug,” Duncan said in a statement. “Instead of building on important work to pursue justice, they are once again choosing politics over students, and students will pay the price.”

Duncan's views were echoed by Fatima Goss Graves, president, and CEO of the National Women's Law Center. She told the Associated Press that DeVos' remarks "signal a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug."

Later in a statement, the National Women’s Law Center said the education secretary’s plan to issue new rules to colleges was “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault.” “It will discourage schools from taking steps to comply with the law — just at the moment when they are finally working to get it right,” the group said. “And it sends a frightening message to all students: Your government does not have your back if your rights are violated.”

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-New York) went a step further and said the announcement “betrays our students, plain and simple,” the Washington Times reported. “I don’t want to see an innocent person punished any more than I want to see a guilty person let off the hook, but Secretary DeVos has shown that she does not take the rights of survivors seriously,” Gillibrand said in a statement.

Jess Davidson, managing director of End Rape of Campus, a survivor advocacy organization, stressed the secretary was using the "guise of fairness" to make a moral equivalence between rapists and survivors. “She said something about how lives have been ruined – the lives of victims, and the lives of the accused,” Davidson told the Independent. “That is insulting to survivors of sexual violence to make that equivalence.”

However, not all were critical of the announcement, with advocates for the accused in sexual assault cases hailing the announcement. Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said, “I think DeVos laid out a sensible, responsible approach to crafting a more measured policy that can better secure the rights of all involved,” the New York Times reported.

Robert Shibley, the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit that focuses on civil liberties, said it was time to rescind the 'Dear Colleague' letter and replace it through the lawful regulatory process so that everyone could have a say. "Six and a half years of this failed policy have left us with a system that victims still don't trust and that the accused have every reason to believe is stacked against them," he said.