Opinion: Universities routinely ignore basic rights
This column might win me no fans on college campuses, but there is something that must be said.
Universities across the country are unconstitutionally punishing those accused of sex-based misconduct with no regard to the civil rights guaranteed of due process. They say they are acting lawfully under the so-called Title IX law of 1972. But the meaning of that law has been twisted over the years by a tortured Victorian-era school of thought almost beyond comprehension.
The law is simple: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” It was enacted to make sure, among other things, that female students got as much money for their sports programs as male students.
These days, Title IX is invoked for all manner of student grievances.
Complaints are most frequently lodged by females against male students and faculty. Some are legitimate complaints alleging sexual harassment or physical misconduct, even rape. But some of the gripes seem whiny. And realize that when a Title IX report is filed, the accused (again, usually a male) is put in the position of basically having to prove his innocence.
“Campus Kangaroo Courts have been around for a long time,” according to Samantha Harris of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. FIRE has intently studied the growing Title IX problem since 2011 when the Obama administration issued strict recommendations to schools on how to handle discrimination allegations, warning that failure to comply would result in losing federal funds. The directive waved off the usual “clear and convincing evidence” standard when judging the legitimacy of a complaint and suggested a “preponderance of evidence” was enough to judge an accused person guilty.
“It’s right there in student handbooks,” Harris explained. “I wish parents would read it carefully and demand universities provide more upholding of individual rights.” She told me FIRE has seen “a disturbing uptick of complaints” about the unfairness of universities “failing to afford the accused a day in court, so to speak.”
Before any fact-finding, or a hearing with witnesses, or any sort of due process, the accused are often suspended, expelled or denied their diploma. Their job prospects are immediately diminished because a life-altering black mark remains on their school transcript, even if they are ultimately exonerated.
The group Families Advocating for Campus Equality, or FACE, says this unconstitutional policy has affected at least 2,000 students whose families have contacted FACE looking for help in fighting the lopsided Title IX process.
In this era of hyper-political correctness, it is a process that almost always takes the word of the female complainant as gospel. Something as simple as a bad grade or a professor’s lecture language can trigger a Title IX complaint. And student-on-student complaints include a common theme: too much alcohol resulting in hazy, unreliable facts.
Under today’s interpretation of Title IX protections, it is automatically rape if the woman says, “I was too drunk to consent.” The woman doesn’t have to say no; she needs to unambiguously say yes to sexual contact. Really? Have you ever heard of college kids stopping midembrace to get an explicit go-ahead agreement? And if a confused student approaches a campus faculty member just to talk about a concerning incident, to try to make sense of their feelings, that triggers an automatic Title IX investigation.
“This fosters a climate that takes away women’s independence, a climate that treats women as fragile and in need of constant intervention,” Harris said.
The Department of Education is currently working on ways to clarify how Title IX protections should be applied. In the meantime, every faculty member and student needs to realize that a misinterpreted glance, comment or touch could negatively affect their future. In a college setting with hormonally driven young people, often away from home for the first time and drinking alcohol, the slightest thing could lead to reckless behavior. The way things stand now, one blurry night of indiscretion could lead to a nullification of that expensive college education.
Yes, a neo-Victorian age really is underway on the American college campus.
— Diane Dimond is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.