Politics & Policy

‘Safe Transfer Act’ Would Brand Transcripts of Students Ensnared in Campus Sex-Crimes Tribunals

(Dreamstime image: Lane Erickson)
A congresswoman thinks that their transcripts should reflect even unsubstantiated accusations.

No longer content to deny due process to university students facing often unsubstantiated or false accusations of sexual harassment and assault, activists now aim to destroy any hope for them to transfer to other colleges and universities. In Congress on December 8, Representative Jackie Speier (D., Calif.) introduced the Safe Transfer Act, which would require transcript notation for students who try to transfer after being found “responsible” for violations of Title IX policies on sexual harassment and assault. The bill would create a new “check the box” requirement specifically for the transcripts of the (mostly) male students who have become ensnared in Title IX’s ever-expanding net for campus “sex crimes.”

In a press release introducing the bill, Speier says that the Safe Transfer Act would ensure that a student who tries to transfer to another college or university would face the “consequences” of his violations of his present school’s policies on sexual harassment and assault. The proposed legislation would also be a warning to colleges and universities that they would “be admitting someone that poses a threat to the students and staff on their campus.”

The bill has been endorsed by the National Organization for Women and End Rape on Campus, big players in the extensive and lucrative campus-assault industry that has been built during the past two decades, and by the Association of Title IX Administrators, which has built a higher-education empire on the backs of innocent male students. In its negligence to ensure that the rights of accused students are protected, the Safe Transfer Act appears to violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Speier warns that her bill would ensure that the students would “no longer be able to walk away from campus with a clean academic bill of health.”

In many Title IX cases, accused students are not given due process, but Speier seems to assume that campuses provide them a fair hearing. Under the policies that many colleges and universities have implemented, accused students are often denied a chance to respond to allegations, not informed of their options for resolving the complaints, not given copies of the incident report or other evidence against them before the hearing, and not allowed to call witnesses on their behalf. On many campuses, they are denied full legal representation and the right to cross-examine witnesses.

Perhaps Speier does not realize that her proposed bill would put colleges and universities at great risk. Just ask administrators at Gonzaga University who ran afoul of privacy protections in a campus sex-abuse case more than two decades ago. A former Gonzaga student, an aspiring teacher, had been an elementary-education major and failed to gain certification from Washington State. It turns out that Roberta League, a Gonzaga administrator, had told representatives of the state’s teacher-certification office that he was accused of raping another student, who, however, never filed charges and in a videotaped deposition denied that the accused student had sexually assaulted her. The accused student sued the university for negligence, defamation, and invasion of privacy. The court ruled that, by reporting the sex-abuse charges in his educational records, Gonzaga had violated the his privacy and civil rights. He won the case and was awarded $1.15 million by the Washington State supreme court.

Inside Higher Ed reported last year that “accused students suing the institutions that suspended or expelled them are now increasingly winning those lawsuits,” including ten in the last year. Some legal experts, including the federal and state judges deciding the cases, say that “the flurry of recent successes for disciplined students may show how some colleges and universities are eliminating basic procedural protections in an attempt to combat campus sexual assault.” Samantha Harris director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told a reporter at Inside Higher Ed that defending these cases is “a rapidly emerging area of law. . . . Up until this point, it’s an area that has not been super fleshed out by the courts, and earlier lawsuits have been largely unsuccessful. But that’s starting to change.”

Speier’s bill arrives at a time of growing recognition that college campuses have already lost credibility in their handling Title IX violations.

In October, at the Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights found that Wesley College in Delaware had violated the Title IX rights of a male student who was accused of sexual assault, and a federal appeals court revived a lawsuit by a male Columbia student who alleged that the university had subjected him to sex discrimination during its investigation of a sexual-assault report against him. There has also been an increase in the number of pre-trial settlements, including those at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Xavier in Ohio, and Swarthmore. And, just last week, a Title IX investigation involving former Baylor football recruit Jeremy Faulk was suspended, probably never to be resolved.

Speier’s bill arrives at a time of growing recognition that college campuses have already lost credibility in their handling of Title IX violations. Worse, the bill would destroy the future of many young men who have been wrongfully accused of sexual abuse on their college campuses. President Obama is directing federal agencies to “ban the box” in their hiring decisions, prohibiting them from asking prospective government employees about their criminal histories on job applications. Arguing that the “federal government should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications,” Obama made the announcement at Rutgers University just a week before the university announced yet another sex-abuse lawsuit, against two football players who allegedly had sexual relations on-campus with an intoxicated woman.

#related#Republican lawmakers, including the incoming attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have introduced the Safe Campus Act, which would require sex-abuse complaints to be handled by the police. If a student alleging a campus sexual assault chooses to keep the accusation from law enforcement, institutions may not initiate disciplinary hearings against the accused. In contrast with the fatally flawed Speier bill, it is sensible, an acknowledgment that crimes should be adjudicated in courts, not by unqualified campus officials.

Anne Hendershott is a professor of sociology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where she also serves as the director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life. She is author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Are Revitalizing the Church.

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