I don’t say this often, but I can’t deny the truth — I’m proud of the faculty at Harvard Law School. Last October, more than two dozen signed a letter protesting Harvard’s revised sexual misconduct policy, rightly pointing out the policy was both overbroad and denied due process to the accused. Then, nineteen professors signed a letter objecting to the portrayal of law student Brandon Winston in the acclaimed documentary The Hunting Ground, now on the short list for an Oscar. Their criticism was stinging. The letter begins:
This purported documentary provides a seriously false picture both of the general sexual assault phenomenon at universities and of our student Brandon Winston. For an investigative journalist’s in-depth story demonstrating the biased, one-sided nature of the film and its unfair portrayal of Mr. Winston, see Emily Yoffe, “How The Hunting Ground Blurs the Truth.”
With respect to Mr. Winston, the film gives the impression that he, like others accused in the stories featured in the film, is guilty of sexual assault by force and the use of drugs on his alleged victims, and that he, like the others accused, is a repeat sexual predator. There have been extensive factual investigations and proceedings examining the facts of Mr. Winston’s case, at Harvard Law School, before the grand jury in connection with criminal charges brought against him, and before the jury in his criminal trial. There was never any evidence that Mr. Winston used force, nor were there even any charges that he used force.
The law professors who signed include some of the most famous and respect leftist legal scholars in the United States. Yet rather than respond in detail to the professors’ charges, the filmmakers answered with threats. Here’s Professor Jeannie Suk, writing in the New Yorker:
[L]ast week the filmmakers did more than understandably disagree with criticism of the film . . . They wrote, in a statement to the Harvard Crimson, that “the very public bias these professors have shown in favor of an assailant contributes to a hostile climate at Harvard Law.” The words “hostile climate” contain a serious claim. At Harvard, sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including verbal conduct that is “sufficiently persistent, pervasive, or severe” so as to create a “hostile environment.” If, as the filmmakers suggest, the professors’ statement about the film has created a hostile environment at the school, then, under Title IX, the professors should be investigated and potentially disciplined.
Suk rightly notes that the professors’ real offense was questioning the #BelieveAllWomen ideology of campus rape alarmists. Here’s Suk again:
What could possibly be the logic on which criticism of “The Hunting Ground” could be said to contribute to a hostile environment, or to cause a student to feel unsafe? The film features the first-person narratives of individuals who describe their sexual assaults and then go on to describe the insensitivity of campus officials or police who did not vindicate their claims. At the Sundance festival première, which I attended, when an audience member asked what people could do to join the fight against campus sexual assault, one of the survivors featured in the film responded, simply, “Believe us.” It is a near-religious teaching among many people today that if you are against sexual assault, then you must always believe individuals who say they have been assaulted. Questioning in a particular instance whether a sexual assault occurred violates that principle. Examining evidence and concluding that a particular accuser is not indeed a survivor, or a particular accused is not an assailant, is a sin that reveals that one is a rape denier, or biased in favor of perpetrators.
The result is a campus legal regime where due process isn’t just disregarded, the very quest for procedural fairness is perceived as yet another form of sexual misconduct:
If I am a student at a school where professors seem to disbelieve one accuser’s account, then it is possible that they could disbelieve me if I am assaulted. That possibility makes me feel both that I am unsafe and that my school is a sexually hostile environment. Under this logic, individuals would not feel safe on campus unless they could know that professors are closed off to the possibility that a particular person accused of sexual misconduct may be innocent or wrongly accused.
This is frightening stuff — moving well beyond the standard left/right debates about criminal justice and into a world where entire categories of Americans aren’t just presumed guilty, they’re concluded to be guilty based on an allegation alone. And as Suk points out, that structure may have some disturbing racial implications for campus social justice warriors:
And if we have learned from the public reckoning with the racial impact of over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and law enforcement bias, we should heed our legacy of bias against black men in rape accusations. The dynamics of racially disproportionate impact affect minority men in the pattern of campus sexual-misconduct accusations, which schools, conveniently, do not track, despite all the campus-climate surveys. Administrators and faculty who routinely work on sexual-misconduct cases, including my colleague Janet Halley, tell me that most of the complaints they see are against minorities, and that is consistent with what I have seen at Harvard. The “always believe” credo will aggravate and hide this context, aided by campus confidentiality norms that make any racial pattern difficult to study and expose.
The preservation of sanity is a bipartisan project, and while it’s disheartening to see principled leftists threatened for standing up for the most basic shared commitment to due process, it’s encouraging to see that they’re not backing down. There are too few conservatives on campus to truly rein in the hysteria, and adult voices on the Left are desperately needed. Suk and her colleagues are performing an invaluable service, and I applaud them for their bravery.