Monday, April 13, 2015

"Should Colleges Be Judging Rape?"

The short answer, of course, is no. But this lengthy expose by the Chronicle of Higher Ed illustrates the uniquely extra-legal, no-win situation colleges and universities are in with these absurd federal guidelines regarding sexual assault.

Four years after the U.S. Education Department admonished colleges to take their role in responding to sexual assault more seriously, a consensus is emerging among some campus officials and legal experts that the government's guidance is not only unrealistic but exceeds its legal authority. The amount of money and effort colleges are devoting to try to meet the mandates for adjudicating sexual misconduct, they say, is unsustainable.

Even as colleges attempt to follow the government's recommended procedures for judging allegations of sexual assault, under threat of losing federal funds, they're facing more scrutiny from lawmakers, plus a torrent of lawsuits and complaints from students. More than 100 institutions are under federal investigation for purportedly botching cases. To deal with students' complaints, some of which are taking years to resolve, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has asked Congress for money to hire 200 more investigators

While few deny that sexual assault is a problem on campuses, no one seems satisfied with colleges' response so far. Victims and their advocates fault officials for missteps and callous disregard, while accused students who were suspended or expelled are increasingly suing their institutions, charging that they were denied due process. "Right now, the process … on college campuses serves no one," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, a cosponsor of a new bipartisan bill meant to tackle the "scourge of campus sexual assaults head on." As she puts it: "It's a broken system."

Law professors, meanwhile, oppose new policies they say tip the scales against those who are accused, and question the legality of the federal guidelines. Faculty members at two law schools — Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania — wrote open letters in the last six months objecting to new systems for dealing with sexual assault on their campuses. "Although we appreciate the efforts by Penn and other universities to implement fair procedures, particularly in light of the financial sanctions threatened by OCR," wrote the Penn professors, "we believe that OCR's approach exerts improper pressure upon universities to adopt procedures that do not afford fundamental fairness."
Read this if you have a few minutes. It illustrates what this blog and others have been saying for years now: it's time to get colleges and universities, who are completely ill-equipped, out of the business of investigating or adjudicating cases sexual assault and rape on campus; and return these cases where they belong: the criminal justice system.

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