In a better world, the horrible travails of the Duke lacrosse team would have led colleges and universities across the country to do more to protect young men from having their reputations destroyed and their lives ruined by false accusations of sexual misconduct. But if anything, young men have been losing procedural safeguards and the presumption of innocence since then as poorly designed programs aimed to deter unwanted sexual advances and contacts on campus spiral towards the surreal.If anybody still doubted that false accusations can and do happen, this week’s story from the University of Wyoming should make it clear. An anonymous note, posted to Facebook group “UW Crushes” and threatening sexual violence against University of Wyoming senior Meg Lanker-Simons, was determined by police to have been written by Simons herself.The Billings Gazette reports:
“I want to hatef— Meg Lanker- so hard,” the Facebook post read. “That chick that runs her liberal mouth all the time and doesn’t care who knows it. I think its hot and it makes me angry. One night with me and she’s gonna be a good Republican b—-.”
The post sparked a fairly typical frenzy of controversy on the UW campus, as students gathered to protest on campus and police quickly began an investigation to locate the author. Police cited Lanker-Simons for a misdemeanor interference with a police investigation after examining her computer and determining that she herself had written the post. Lanker-Simons denies the charges and we wish her all the best in court… and we wouldn’t deny her the presumption of innocence and all the procedural safeguards our legal system affords. Perhaps she’s been falsely accused of lying about sex, or perhaps she’s made a false accusation that something occurred. We don’t know, we don’t think a young man accused of something wrong should have less protection than Lanker-Simons deserves.If this were a typical case of a young man being accused by a young woman at many colleges, the accuser would only need to show, for example, a “preponderance of evidence” (50.01 percent) that the accused committed the crime. And standard procedures of discovery and evidence gathering are also removed from the process, so the accused has less ability to mount a defense as well as facing a lower threshold for a determination of guilt. These university hearings aren’t legal proceedings and nobody goes to jail as a result of them… but the impact on young lives can be as severe as that resulting from a misdemeanor conviction.As we’ve said before, this is tricky territory. There is a legitimate concern about inappropriate sexual behavior on American campuses, and late adolescence is not in any case the time of life when most of us are at the peak of our moral development. In the old days university administrators went to great lengths to guard against inappropriate sexual behavior, keeping the sexes in separate dorms, limiting visiting hours, treating alcohol abuse or even use as grounds for expulsion and limiting even consensual sexual behavior among students.For a variety of reasons, mostly good but some perhaps less wise, society has been moving away from this approach to undergraduate sex. That’s a choice students, parents and administrators should be free to make, but it is morally wrong and educationally unwise to base the new policy on a system that is fundamentally unfair to half (or slightly less, as young men these days are not going to college as often as young women) the student body.