Why Do Colleges Adjudicate Sexual Assault?

As I read Christina Hoff Sommers’s excellent essay about the Obama administration’s rush to force campuses to enact a “preponderance of the evidence” evidentiary standard on sexual-assault allegations, I found myself wondering why colleges adjudicate sexual assault allegations at all. Sommers urges that “serious charges” be left to police, but I think all charges should be left to the judicial system. Let’s not forget that criminal charges are not the only recourse for the aggrieved (alleged) victim; she can also file a civil case against an alleged attacker, and that civil case has a much lower burden of proof — the very preponderance of the evidence standard the administration urges.

But there are huge differences between civil litigation and the ad hoc and sometimes comic informality and incompetence of campus justice. In the civil system, the accuser can be deposed, under oath. In the civil system, the discovery process requires both sides to cough up their supporting evidence. And a jury of your peers helps insulate the case from on-campus hysteria and ideologically-dictated outcomes.

Administrators can certainly steer aggrieved students to law enforcement, or — if they don’t want to file a criminal complaint — a list of attorneys who may be willing to take their case. Campuses can certainly take action to expel students found guilty in criminal proceedings or liable in civil proceedings, and they can and should work to separate and protect students engaged in ongoing legal proceedings. But must they haul students before motley collections of students, professors, and administrators to decide a question (Rapist? Or not?) that often challenges even the capabilities of our criminal-justice system?

The Obama administration is asking for Duke-style witch hunts, and it’s only a matter of time before the innocent suffer the consequences.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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