Scripps College, George Will, and Sexual Assault

As many of you now know, George Will was recently disinvited from speaking this coming February at Scripps College’s Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program, a series that is designed to bring one distinguished conservative figure per year to a campus that is, otherwise, ideologically homogenous.

Will assumed it was because of what he wrote in a controversial column on sexual assault. As he told the Claremont Independent in an interview, “they didn’t say that the column was the reason, but it was the reason.” Once the Independent broke the story, Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga issued a statement confirming Will’s theory.

The president’s statement and the wider debate on campus are filled with doubletalk. Among the most egregious: “Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate…”

Of course, sexual violence itself is not a political issue. It’s a criminal issue.

What is a political issue, however, is how we choose to respond to sexual violence on campus and as a nation. If we don’t “trivialize” such policies through reasoned debate, how do we know if they’re any good?

Each political perspective offers contrasting solutions to the problem of sexual violence.

The leftist perspective, comfortable with the goodness and effectiveness of the bureaucratic state, contends that school administrators should adjudicate cases of sexual violence (both sexaul assault and rape) under Title IX, treating sexual violence as a type of discrimination.

At Claremont McKenna College, rape is tried by administrators and faculty in makeshift courts. Let that sink in for a minute. Faculty and professors are sitting in as judge and jury in cases of rape, the most egregious sexual crime that can be committed against an adult, rather than real judges and a jury of one’s peers.

While college administrators may not desire to judge rape cases, they must do so because of an April 2011 Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter, which mandates that, in order to stay in line with Title IX, colleges must try such cases, and under lower standards than those in real courts.

Such a system trivializes rape, treating it like a serious infraction. Furthermore, it imbues non-governmental entities with a worrying amount of power. There is already evidence that the current processes are excessively prone to outside influences, with cases being influenced by a student’s popularity or their relationship to a major donor or a national figure.

The conservative view (which, admittedly, Mr. Will could have done a better job of explaining) is that deans and professors shouldn’t be trying cases of sexual violence. Instead, our legal system should. Rights of the accused – like the presumption of innocence, right to an attorney, right to a judge, right to a jury that must reach a unanimous decision, and the right to cross-examination, among others – are weak or nonexistent in collegiate courtrooms. These rights do not exist in the court of public opinion, where debates over individual cases influence the national debate on sexual violence policy. However unpleasant, rights of the accused and a methodical judicial process are essential to ensuring that justice is done properly.

Rape shouldn’t be a “preponderance of evidence” infraction. Rape should be treated as a felony, a crime serious enough that must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Rape convictions shouldn’t result in simple expulsion.  Rape convictions should result in jail time and felon status.

The argument that it was correct to uninvite Will is wrong-headed. Let’s be clear, this is absolutely not a question of free speech. Of course Scripps can invite or disinvite whomever it wants. What conservatives think is that, while it is Scripps’ right to disinvite Will, it was wrong of them to do so. It sets a bad precedent. It is an insult to the students of Scripps College. And it goes against values that classical liberalism does and modern progressive liberalism claims to espouse, such as toleration, reason, and the value of debate.

Disinviting George Will only tightens the ideological straight-jacket that binds the students of Scripps College. Let us hope that the students of Scripps understand the disservice their administrators have done to their intellectual environment and that they find ways to compensate. Reading the CI is a good way to start.

Read more:

2 thoughts on “Scripps College, George Will, and Sexual Assault”

  1. You discuss campus rape tribunals as though the Dear Colleague letter made them the ONLY way to adjudicate and punish rape committed at colleges. Not true.

    “Faculty and professors are sitting in as judge and jury in cases of rape, the most egregious sexual crime that can be committed against an adult, rather than real judges and a jury of one’s peers.” / “deans and professors shouldn’t be trying cases of sexual violence. Instead, our legal system should.”
    Nope. Trying rape as a violation of college policy/TIX does not substitute a real judge and jury for college officials. The latter is not attempting to replace the former. They can, and for those who report to police, they do, exist independently and simultaneously.

    “Furthermore, it imbues non-governmental entities with a worrying amount of power.”
    Colleges have not usurped the judicial power to convict someone of a felony and sentence them to prison time. What they ARE doing is exercising the administrative power to address the fact that sexual violence, independent of its status as a crime, is abhorrent to our standards as a private community.

    “The conservative view (which, admittedly, Mr. Will could have done a better job of explaining)…”
    Would it satisfy you if someone else who holds the same view — not an uncommon one — who has not used rather careless rhetoric to express that view came in Will’s place? In LBV’s letter, she said they disinvited him because “Mr. Will authored a column questioning the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students.” As a refresher, he described a young woman’s case and then essentially said that it wasn’t really rape and shouldn’t have been treated as such by her school. If that were me who had been raped, I would be enraged. In fact, the victim that story describes has come forward expressing how upset she was to see her story, which was already traumatic for her, trivialized by Will in his column. LBV’s letter never says they disapproved of the conservative view — which you agree Will poorly articulated. If the stated issue is with Will carelessly writing off this woman’s experience, not with the belief that colleges shouldn’t adjudicate rape on campus, then I don’t really see what all the fuss is about.

    “However unpleasant, rights of the accused and a methodical judicial process are essential to ensuring that justice is done properly.”
    In any legal process, by our constitution, yes – absolutely. This isn’t that. The fifth amendment guarantees the rights it does with the recognition that the force of the American legal/criminal system is immense, and that to face those extreme consequences — jail time, prison time, fines, house arrest, whatever it may be — we must have very high standards. The consequences in a college tribunal — worst being expulsion — are nowhere near the consequences in a criminal trial, so the moral force behind the argument to maintain such strict standards simply isn’t there. The comparison isn’t a direct one, so if you want all the same rights of the accused to apply, you need to make a stronger argument essentially equating being expelled from college to spending a decade in federal prison and having a felony on your record. You’ve already made clear you don’t think those are equal, when you argued the college process “trivializes” rape (even though it in no way precludes a criminal trial that sends someone to prison from occurring), so I don’t see how you can reasonably get there.

    “Rape shouldn’t be a “preponderance of evidence” infraction. Rape should be treated as a felony, a crime serious enough that must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Rape convictions shouldn’t result in simple expulsion. Rape convictions should result in jail time and felon status.”
    Essentially covered my thoughts on preponderance of evidence in the paragraph above, but again — being found guilty of violating TIX is NOT THE SAME AS BEING CONVICTED OF RAPE. A rape conviction in a criminal trial DOES result in jail time and felon status; expulsion is punishment for TIX violation, not criminal conviction, and the two are absolutely not mutually exclusive. If you want to make an argument about how the two processes intersect, do that, and we’ll get into the next round of arguments and address the myriad reasons women often don’t report to the police. But this doesn’t. And in ignoring that key element, you’ve glossed over a huge part of this issue and the objections to the “conservative view” you’re so worried is being silenced.

    1. I mean the flip side to going public with stories about your life is that if people find the claims you put forward horribly wrong (that this isn’t an example of rape) the claim is going to rightly be critiqued. for better or worse that’s just the nature of making such a public claim on a controversial topic (since remember will came to the story via a Philadelphia magazine talking about rape at swarthmore).

      Trying rape as a violation of college policy
      which fits into the article’s argument that it trivializes it (just as a campus tribunal for murder would trivialize the seriousness of murder)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *