Phi Beta Cons

Campus Grievance Procedures Not Designed for Felonies

The accused are denied due process and judged by kangaroo courts. Victims are ignored and mistreated. False accusations fly, crimes go unpunished, and justice is rarely served.

How on earth have we failed so miserably in dealing with sexual assault on campus?

With due process still under fire at America’s elite schools, and legislation on campus sexual assault pending in Congress, it is timely to reflect on a letter the American Council on Education’s president, Molly Broad, sent to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions last month. Therein, Broad explains the difficulties faced by campus administrators in dealing with accusations of sexual assault. She is worth quoting at length:

Conducting education and providing information is an area where college officials have vast experience. … But performing investigations and adjudicating cases is a far more difficult challenge. … Our disciplinary and grievance procedures were designed to provide appropriate resolution of institutional standards for student conduct, especially with respect to academic matters. They were never meant for misdemeanors, let alone felonies. While we take our obligations to the victims/survivors of sexual assault very seriously and are fully aware of our responsibilities with respect to sexual assaults, our on-campus disciplinary processes are not proxies for the criminal justice system, nor should they be.

Simply put, the higher education community is not equipped to play judge, jury, and executioner in matters that require the expertise of law enforcement and judges. After all, incidents of assault are often clouded in a morass of drugs, alcohol, and spotty memories. And when the accused actually is guilty, colleges and universities lack the authority to mete out the kind of punishment a crime as serious as sexual assault deserves. No matter how you cut it, someone, whether the accused or the victim, will not see justice served.

In spite of this, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) continues to insist that campus bureaucrats deal with matters of criminal sensitivity. The OCR has led a shakedown of schools with Title IX complaints. As Broad notes in her letter, OCR guidance is often unclear and inconsistent with other federal laws. On occasion, OCR requirements have even undermined institutions’ ability to cooperate with local law enforcement! But the Obama Administration’s OCR keeps pressing on, threatening to expand its “guidance” to elementary and secondary schools.

Sexual assault is too serious an issue to be dealt with in a parallel, quasi-legal system run by college administrators who proclaim their own lack of competence in these matters. As Broad correctly points out, colleges and universities are equipped to provide education and training about sexual assault. And it would be wonderful to see schools take serious steps to provide alternatives to the reigning culture of underage drinking and parties on many campuses. But this is an opportunity for trustees, presidents, and administrators to work together and remind the OCR that colleges are educational institutions, not law enforcement agencies.

Sexual assault is a crime. Let’s treat it as one.

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