Amid growing concern over sexual misconduct on American college campuses, the idea that the accused don’t deserve full legal representation has put some feminists and university administrators on the wrong side of morality and of the law. Fortunately, the reaction against this overreach is gaining ground, according to a new piece in the New York Times on lawyers who are pushing back against the way colleges handle these kinds of disciplinary proceedings:
Last month, 28 members of the Harvard Law School faculty published an op-ed criticizing Harvard’s sexual misconduct policies for “the absence of any adequate opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses and present a defense at an adversary hearing,” for exceeding the parameters of Title IX and for “the failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused.” […]
A similar number recently stepped into the political arena when they signed a letter denouncing the Campus Accountability and Safety Act proposed by Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri; the measure is intended to help universities address sexual misconduct more effectively. “By presuming that all accusers are in fact ‘victims,’ ” the letter said, “the proposed legislation does a grave disservice to those accused of serious sexual offenses.”
Rape is a horrible crime. To say that young people accused of rape are entitled to fair legal protections isn’t to endorse, defend, or enable rape. Nor is it to ignore the struggles that victims have in being believed or getting justice or protection. Sadly, some people have lost sight of these obvious facts.Nevertheless, sending a few more lawyers to college campuses will not change the cultural conditions that have led to widespread sexual assault. The dysfunction of campus sexual assault policy—for the victims and the accused alike—traces to the mess that college life has become for many students. Where binge drinking, drug use, and the hook-up culture have taken hold, vulnerable young people are exposed to painful and damaging interactions. Meanwhile, administrators are often reluctant to address these toxic trends, and ill-equipped to handle the fallout.Young women (and not only young women) are not helped by a culture that celebrates casual sex in an atmosphere of unrestrained use of alcohol and other drugs. Feminists and others are right that the situation on some campuses is unacceptable, but the “affirmative consent” paradigm seems like a dubious solution in this context.There is no easy solution to this tangle of problems, to an environment where so many are harmed not only by other students but by indifferent or incompetent administration. College life in some place is failing everyone, even as rape victims face a unique kind of trauma. Universities have largely given up their old role of functioning in loco parentis, despite the new focus on these tribunals. In then end, there is no substitute for parents and other adult authority figures going out of their way to provide guidance and good role models for young people of all genders and persuasions.