Big Government on Campus

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I doubt that the federal government should be setting rules for how colleges should handle sexual-harassment cases, but if it is going to set them it ought to do so more wisely than it seems to be doing. The Departments of Justice and Education announced the new rules this spring in a letter to the University of Montana. I write about it today for Bloomberg View

The university also erred, according to the letter, in saying that conduct qualified as harassment only when “an objectively reasonable person” would find it “offensive.” Harassment may occur, then, when someone’s conduct triggers even an objectively unreasonable complaint. The federal government has put universities on notice that they need to take any complaint, however little merit it may seem to have, very seriously. 

The letter went on to instruct colleges that “taking disciplinary action against the harasser” may be appropriate, and even required, before the investigation into the complaint is finished — that is, before it is determined that the “harasser” is actually a harasser.