Phi Beta Cons

You Can’t Say That!

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has stepped up its campaign against sexual harassment on college campuses nationwide. It sent a letter to colleges and universities in April requiring tougher new disciplinary standards. Here’s Michael Barone’s take:

OCR’s letter carries great weight since there are few things a university president fears more than an OCR investigation, which can lead to loss of federal funds — which amount to billions of dollars in some cases.

The OCR letter includes a requirement that universities adopt a “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof for deciding cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In other words, in every case of alleged sexual harassment or sexual assault, a disciplinary board must decide on the basis of more likely than not.

That’s far short of the requirement in criminal law that charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And these disciplinary proceedings sometimes involve charges that could also be criminal, as in cases of alleged rape.

But more often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include “humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable” (University of California at Berkeley), “unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people” (Iowa State University) or “elevator eyes” (Murray State University in Kentucky)…

What the seemingly misnamed Office of Civil Rights is doing here is demanding the setting up of kangaroo courts and the dispensing of what I would call marsupial justice against students who are disfavored by campus denizens because of their gender or race or political attitude.

Speaking from my own observations, college can be a sexually hostile environment for many students. I’m not sure Barone takes that into account adequately in his piece. But this is a broad moral and cultural problem, and I agree it’s very hard for a university disciplinary committee to do anything about it. Ultimately, criminal cases should be handled in criminal court. And I think our universities would be more successful in curtailing harassment if they didn’t spend so much time pushing a doctrine of moral relativism on students one minute, then trying to enforce respectful behavior the next. You can’t favor moral relativism and women’s rights at the same time. You have to choose one or the other.

A radical ’60s-era sexual agenda still rules most of our campuses today. Administrators with Ph.D.s toss handfuls of condoms at students and feel they’ve done their duty to ensure student wellbeing. The view that sex is all about self-discovery, self-expression, and self-satisfaction dominates every freshman orientation sex-ed seminar across the fruited plain, where students are taught that sexual restraint is for prudes and backwards Bible-thumpers. Then these same universities are shocked whenever a young guy throws off all restraint in the midst of his own particular journey toward sexual self-expression, and starts verbally harassing the nearest co-ed.

True gender equality is impossible in a culture that despises moral restraint.


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