The Corner

Education

How State Legislators Can Improve Higher Education

Usually, the less a state does with regard to higher education, the better. Sometimes, however, there are measures that a state legislature could take that would make its higher-education system better. In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson writes about several ideas that North Carolina’s legislature should push this year.

The one that has the most national interest involves a contentious matter in Title IX cases — the burden of proof.  During the Obama administration, the Education Department sent forth its “guidance” on how colleges should handle such cases, including a directive to employ a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for finding an accused student guilty. That very weak standard led to punishment for many students based on pretty flimsy accusations. Secretary DeVos has rescinded that directive, leaving it up to individual schools to decide on the evidentiary standard. Some, in the grip of feminist/progressive ideology, have declared that they will stick with the weak Obama standard.

Actually, I can applaud that as a matter of federalism — the feds don’t have any business telling states what to do on this. State legislatures ought to insist on a “clear and convincing” standard in the colleges and universities they fund, as well as protect the rights of accused students in other ways.

Regarding the legislation that has been introduced, Robinson writes, “If enacted, the bill would require universities to give accused students ‘adequate notice including details of the allegation . . . and copies of all evidence at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” It would also permit both parties in a case to question and cross-examine witnesses. And it states that the “standard of proof of responsibility for proving sexual misconduct shall not be less than clear and convincing evidence.”

This will no doubt come up in other “red” states where the officials in the state university system want to keep using the deck that was stacked against accused students.

Robinson also advocates more transparency in public university foundations to ensure that they operate in the public interest, and to change the funding model for state universities so that they do more to promote student success.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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