If further evidence were needed that campus courts are the wrong place to adjudicate criminal cases and, especially, sexual assault cases, look no further than Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Here, the administrator recently hired to oversee the college’s campus court proceedings is named in a lawsuit for violating a student’s fundamental due process rights.
In her former job as a director of judicial affairs at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Pitzer College’s newly hired dean of students Sandra Vasquez concealed material evidence from a low-income, minority student seeking to defend himself against a suspension levied by school officials in response to unfounded criminal allegations, according to a March 2017 court order and complaint submitted in July. Continue reading Pitzer Dean of Students Concealed Material Evidence in Title IX Investigation
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.
- The Claremont Independent’s 2013 piece on Title IX, including CMC Professor Joseph Bessette’s eight concerns over CMC’s sexual violence hearing procedures
- CMC Dean Spellman’s interview with the Claremont Independent on Title IX procedures where she explained her lack of concern over the new, lower “preponderance” standard of evidence
- The Student Life: Sexual Assault Survivors Criticize Reporting Process
- The CMC Forum: Sexual Assault at CMC: The Process and the Aftermath
- The Economist on “yes means yes” and sexual assault on campus
The Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald on “Neo-Victorianism on Campus” in the Weekly Standard
- “Yes Means Yes” is a terrible law, and I completely support it by Ezra Klein
- “False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem” by Cathy Young
- More than ever for colleges, Title IX rape cases are a legal minefield
- How ‘Consensual’ Sex Got A Freshman Kicked Out Of College And Started A Huge Debate
- The George Will column in the Washington Post
- The Claremont Independent’s initial story on the George Will disinvitation
- The Claremont Independent’s follow-up with the Scripps President’s response
- The Scripps Voice Editorial on the George Will disinvitation
- The Claremont Independent’s rebuttal to the Scripps Voice editorial
- The Claremont Port Side also wrote about the George Will incident
After initially responding to our request for an interview with a statement entitled “Regarding Title IX,” the Claremont McKenna Office of Public Affairs granted the CI an interview with Dean of Students Mary Spellman to discuss the college’s Title IX sexual violence grievance procedures.
Claremont McKenna College implemented new Civil Rights Policies and Civil Rights Grievance Procedures, which apply to cases of sexual violence, in accordance with a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) issued by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The DCL, sent to all educational institutions in the United States that receive federal funding, stipulates numerous Title IX requirements to which recipients must adhere in investigating and resolving complaints of sexual violence. The most controversial of its contents is a requirement that schools use a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof in evaluating complaints of sexual violence. The preponderance standard is met if it is more likely than not (a greater than 50 percent probability) that the offense occurred. The DCL explicitly states that schools are not to use the clear and convincing standard (i.e. it is highly likely or reasonably certain that the offense occurred).
When asked if Claremont McKenna College held any opinions about complying with the Department of Education’s ultimatum regarding the preponderance standard, Dean Spellman responded that the decision-making standard is a minimally important aspect of the college’s grievance procedures. She said, “The decision-making standard is the least important piece, I believe, in how we handle sexual violence cases or any kind of student conduct case. It’s really about, ‘Do we provide a fair and neutral and equitable process to all parties?’ The decision-making standard is a small piece of that larger process.”
When asked more specifically if the college was concerned that the use of such a low standard would produce wrongful findings of guilt, Spellman responded similarly, saying that the low decision-making standard should not be of great concern. She said,
“The [decision-making] standard is one piece of a very important process, so we need to make sure we have a process that’s fair, that it has appropriate due process for all the parties, that the individuals, particularly the respondent, understands what their rights are and has a process by which the college has as much information as possible about the circumstance so that the trained investigator or trained hearing officer is able to make a fair, neutral and informed decision. So I think that that is the most important piece. We could have a higher decision-making standard, and if our process didn’t have all of the robustness that our process does, you could still have a problem. It could be a different problem, but you’re going to still have a problem. So the decision-making standard—you know, preponderance or something else—really, what’s crucial is the process that you get to that. With preponderance of the evidence, if you have a process that is as robust as we want ours to be and we hope and think ours is, then the decision is easy at that point, because you have all the facts. The decision is either you do have enough information, or you don’t. That’s, to me, the most important piece.”
In other words, if the college institutes robust grievance procedures that offer appropriate due process for all parties involved, it doesn’t really matter whether the college uses a preponderance standard, a clear and convincing standard, or even a beyond a reasonable doubt standard. You either have enough information, or you don’t.
For a perspective about why the decision-making standard does matter, and why the preponderance standard is a troubling aspect of CMC’s grievance procedures, see our previous article “Title IX, sexual violence, and the preponderance standard.”
On Mar. 1, we attended the “5C Deans of Student Life Panel on Sexual Assault Policies,” hosted by the Motley and Sexual Assault Awareness and Resource Committee, both student organizations at Scripps. Five deans from each Claremont College were present for the 2 hour presentation, which consisted of the deans’ answers to pre-screened questions and a brief, live Q&A period.
It was an overdue opportunity for administration to engage students directly for a discussion of changes to sexual assault policies across the 5Cs. The discussion covered many questions ranging from “What do you intend to address in the policies?” to the concern that “previous policies didn’t address all [sexual] identities.”
More insightful, however, were the deans of the other colleges’ answers in relation to those of Dean Mary Spellman, Title IX Coordinator and effective spokesperson for CMC’s changes to sexual violence grievance procedures in light of the Dear Colleague Letter. Dean Spellman pointed out that CMC’s sexual violence grievance procedure policy was already “technically in compliance” before the recent changes. However, it became clear from the discussion that the other
deans were taking a strong lead from Spellman’s initiatives.
For example, Harvey Mudd College VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Maggie Browning, said that Harvey Mudd is in the process of revising its grievance procedures after they “took a look at what Dean Spellman was doing.”
Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College have already finalized the changes to their sexual violence grievance procedures. However, the other three colleges in the Consortium are still in the process of revising their policies.
Most of the deans emphasized that cross-campus policies were of particular importance, and it seems that policies are shifting to require that grievance procedures be carried out on the respondent’s campus. Given the frequency that students interact with one another across the 5Cs, the changes to grievance procedure policies on any of the five campuses have implications for any student at the Claremont Colleges.
Dean of Students at Scripps, Bekki Lee, acknowledged, “in cross-campus cases, the learning curve is to know each other’s processes.” It is concerning that any type of learning curve is involved in the context of serious accusations. Such comments point to the need for students from all 5Cs to educate themselves on changes to grievance procedure policies and their accompanying implications, especially in the area of the 5Cs’ differing definitions of consent and incapacitation. For example, CMC’s rules explicitly state that an individual can give consent under the influence, while other Claremont Colleges consider intoxication prohibitive of consent.
According to Dean Spellman, “each institution has its own culture of how to conduct processes. But what is really important is that where we do intersect, we have to be in agreement.”
The burden is now on students to educate themselves on how and where 5C policies intersect and agree. This starts with the sweeping changes to CMC’s sexual violence grievance procedures, and their problems, something to which we have already dedicated several articles, and something from which several 5C deans say they are taking the lead.