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.