Monday, September 11, 2017
“We must do better because the current approach isn’t working,” she said.
Christina Hoff Sommers, Protecting Due Process in Sexual Assault Cases on Campus, Chronicle of Higher Ed.
used to wonder what was worse: Republican politicians ignoring women’s issues or Republican politicians talking about them. The recent speech by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a welcome exception: Her address on the need to reform campus sexual-assault procedures was empathetic and judicious. She offered a way forward that should appeal to fair-minded people across political and cultural divides.
"One rape is one too many," she said. But, she added, "One person denied due process is one too many."
She acknowledged the suffering of both victims of sexual assault and those falsely accused of assault: "Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined." Those are non-negotiable principles, and she promised to revamp the current system for adjudicating cases of campus sexual assault, which she called "broken."
That broken system was created by a letter from a little-known public official. No one in the House or Senate voted for it, and no judge reviewed it. The public was not notified in advance and did not discuss it before it was issued. On April 4, 2011, Assistant Secretary of Education Russlyn Ali sent out her now-famous "Dear Colleague" letter to colleges across the country.
The letter advised them to determine guilt in sexual-assault cases by the lowest standard possible — a preponderance of evidence — and to "minimize the burden on the complainant." It said nothing about the rights of the accused. Informal measures for resolving "he said, she said" confrontations were ruled out of order. "In cases involving sexual assault," Ali instructed, "mediation is not appropriate even on a voluntary basis."
Ali thought college administrators were doing too little to protect students from the reported epidemic of sexual violence and harassment on campus. I have argued elsewhere that these reports were exaggerated, and that most college officials did take the problem seriously, but I don’t question her sincerity. I do question her judgment and her right to regulate by fiat. Secretary DeVos was right to say, "Instead of working with schools on behalf of students, the prior administration weaponized the Office for Civil Rights to work against schools and against students."
Colleges were panicked by Assistant Secretary Ali’s "Dear Colleague" letter and rushed to meet the new requirements. They revamped their disciplinary committees and hired Title IX officers to run programs with titles like the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution. According to Emily Yoffe, Harvard has 55 full- and part-time Title IX coordinators. Princeton has 41.
Fearing Title IX investigations and loss of federal funding, many colleges set up extrajudicial sex courts, where defendants could be found guilty of a crime even if there was a 49.9 percent chance that they were innocent. At last count, more than 150 lawsuits have been filed since 2011 by students (mostly young men) alleging unfair treatment in a campus sexual-assault proceeding.
See also, prior post, Harvard Law Profs Call for DOE to Revise Title IX Campus Assault Policy