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DC's PC Commissars Lose Touch With Common Sense

Asking a fellow student on a date may now get you kicked off a college campus. Following a year long investigation into the University of Montana’s handling of several sexual assault cases, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a joint letter to the university in which they stretch the definition of sexual harassment beyond anything comprehensible. The new guidelines, according to the departments, should “serve as a blueprint” for universities across the country.

The letter chastises the University of Montana for the stricter terms by which it originally defined harassment:

[The University of Montana’s] Sexual Harassment Policy 406.5.1 improperly suggests that the conduct does not constitute sexual harassment unless it is objectively offensive. This policy…states that “[w]hether conduct is sufficiently offensive to constitute sexual harassment is determined from the perspective of an objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation.” …As explained in the Legal Standards section above, the United States considers a variety of factors, from both a subjective and objective perspective, to determine if a hostile environment has been created.

More simply, what this means is that any verbal comments may qualify as harassment if a particular student happens to find them offensive—even if other students of the same gender saw nothing wrong with the comments. This new definition stands in direct contradiction to the 2003 OCR’s guidance on sexual harassment, which stated that harassment must “incude something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols, or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”

No more, apparently. The sacred right to take umbrage now triumphs over common sense.

Today’s American campus is a diverse place. Some people come from very conservative homes where grace is said before meals, sexual activity before marriage is unthinkable, and no foul language or sexual innuendo is ever heard. These students will be shocked and offended by conduct or remarks that Americans who grow up watching debased popular entertainment think are perfectly normal and unexceptionable. Students from some Muslim or immigrant families have very different ideas about how the sexes should behave than students from other backgrounds. Few 18 year olds of any gender can decipher the complicated social codes that Americans from different backgrounds carry around with them. Many 18 year olds of all genders get confused and make mistakes. But the right to take umbrage is absolute; the Commissars of Correctness have issued their decree.

We’ve written before on the “kangaroo courts,” the OCR’s new policy that allows universities to circumvent regular due process laws in cases of sexual assault. According to these new regulations, all a university tribunal needs to show in order to convict a student of sexual harassment is that he or she more likely than not (by a preponderance of evidence—50.01 percent) committed the crime. These new regulations are alarming enough on their own, but now that the DOJ and OCR are widening the definition of what constitutes harassment in the first place. This new reality is genuinely Kafkaesque.

Sexual harassment is wrong, and anyone who spends time on an American campus knows that the problem of improper and unwanted sexual advances and conduct is both serious and real. But the clumsy efforts of bureaucrats to regulate the romantic lives of millions of teenagers and early twenty-somethings by ill judged official decrees will not help.

The Obama administration seems to be doing its level best to convince the American people that a large and powerful federal government is a threat to liberty. From IRS zealots blatantly using their powers against political enemies to prosecutors overreaching in attacks on journalists to deranged bureaucrats attacking fundamental standards of fairness on campus, the federal government is daily demonstrating the danger of giving it too many missions.

This is not a Tea Party blog and there are no pictures of Ayn Rand in our boardroom.  With George Washington and Alexander Hamilton we believe in a federal government that is active and strong enough to secure the general welfare. But the sprawling, overreaching, under-managed, over-priced clumsy behemoth stumbling across the American landscape today is something very different from the government the United States needs.

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  • Phineas Fahrquar

    “With George Washington and Alexander Hamilton we believe in a federal government that is active and strong enough to secure the general welfare.”

    Quite a few Tea Partiers and other populist conservatives would agree with you. The question, though, is where the line of “enough” is drawn. But I think we can all agree that OCR’s actions not only cross that line, but shatter it. I’d love to see this challenged on 14th amendment grounds.

  • Corlyss

    Maybe we should let the DoJ OCR handle the sexual harassment policy for DoD.

  • Luke Lea

    Before you know it we may have to go back to single sex colleges!

  • BrianFrankie

    “This is not a Tea Party blog and there are no pictures of Ayn Rand in our boardroom.”

    Maybe this is your problem. I’m a “radical right winger” according to friends and relations, although personally I have always considered myself quite moderate. But the result is that anything I may say is discounted.

    What we need are moderate left wingers like VM to stand up for common sense and traditional values. Unfortunately, the moderate left wing seems to have mostly disappeared, subsumed by the Sean Penn wing, which seems to drive most of the US government most of the time. Perhaps if the moderate left wing would focus more on the real issues threatening America, rather than throwing snide comments around and demonising the Tea Party, we could actually make some progress.

    I mean, come on – did this post on Federal Government intrusiveness and political correctness run amok truly need to throw in a line disparaging the Tea Party? Why did you feel the need to do that? Rather than saying: “We’re not crazy like the Tea Party” can’t you simply say: “We agree with the Tea Party on this issue.” Is that really so very, very hard? Or are you afraid if you say that once, next thing you know, you’ll be standing in front of the Capitol wearing a three cornered hat?

  • Michael J. Lotus

    Tea Party folks believe in Constitutionally limited government. This is not “weak” government. In fact, government exceeding its legitimate mandate is not “strong” but ham-fisted, expensive and ineffectual at the same time. It is, in Francis Fukuyama’s parlance, the distinction between scope and scale — strength and effectiveness within a delimited scope is the goal.

    On the codes themselves, there seems to be a profit making opportunity. Someone should set up a dating service for undergraduate females to meet recent grads of college or professional school. The men would not be subject to the codes, and the young women would be meeting a more mature and accomplished group of men.

    • Michael J. Lotus


      Fukuyama talked about strength and scope.

      Scale and scope was Alfred Chandler.

      The idea is a government that is strong within limited scope.

  • Kaehurowing

    Laws that are left to the be determined by a subjective, rather than objective, standard, are generally considered to be unlawful, because enforcement will likely be selective, arbitrary and capricious, rather than uniform. Such laws raise serious due process concerns as well as the fear of unconstitutionally chilling protected speech and conduct. I suspect those results are intentional here.

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