A San Diego judge has has ordered UC San Diego to set aside a sexual misconduct finding against a male student in a decision that paints a picture of an adjudication process riddled with due process violations and stacked against the accused.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Joseph Cohn has a summary of Pressman’s decision, along with commentary. In a nutshell, the University (1) denied the accused student a fair opportunity to cross-examine his accuser, severely restricting the questions he was allowed to ask her, but compelling him to answer all questions directed at him, (2) based its findings in large part on a report by a university administrator who did not testify at the hearing (3) undermined the accused student’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by interpreting his refusal to elaborate on a certain question as incriminating, and (4) improperly increased the sanctions against the accused without explanation, apparently, according to the judge, as retaliation for his appealing the decision against him. The judge, Joel M. Pressman, concluded that “the sequence of events do [sic] not demonstrate non-consensual behavior,” but rather “Ms. Roe’s [the pseudonym of the alleged victim] personal regret for engaging in sexual activity beyond her boundaries.”
Pressman may be the first state-level judge to invalidate a university sexual misconduct proceeding since the campus rape controversy began several years ago. (According to this piece by KC Johnson, a federal court made a similar ruling against Xavier University last year). His ruling may reverberate beyond the UCSD campus. As the Los Angeles Times reports, “the case is being watched nationally as concern has grown that the intensified crackdown on campus sexual assault over the last few years has at times skewed too far against those accused.” Professor Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania told the Times that the San Diego decision “could have tremendous persuasive impact on other courts.”
We’re hoping she’s right. Recently, campus administrators have sometimes shown themselves to be incapable of handling allegations of sexual assault without violating of the rights of the accused. The courts aren’t perfect, but they are better equipped than a college tribunal to handle these cases according to the standards of due process.