A Necessary Start

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is on the verge of issuing actual rules (not “guidance” letters) directing the way in which colleges and universities must handle accusations of sexual assault.  These rules will include

  • the right of every survivor to be taken seriously and the right of every person accused to know that guilt is not predetermined
  • both the alleged victim and the accused would be able to inspect and review all evidence
  • All Title IX hearings would include cross-examination, which could occur in-person or by live stream, with campus adjudicators allowed to observe the demeanor of witnesses as they assess credibility
  • statements of anyone who refuses cross-examination could not be considered in the final determination Title IX judges would be required to consider both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence.
  • acknowledges that schools’ “treatment of both complainant and respondent could constitute discrimination on the basis of sex”
  • both the alleged victim and the accused would enjoy the same opportunities for appeal, and, if both parties agreed, administrators could offer informal resolution processes like mediation
  • universities could still use a weaker “preponderance of evidence” as the standard of proof, similar to civil cases, rather than a higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

The proposal is a good start toward redressing the inequities of the Obama administration’s infamous Dear Colleague Letter, but there remain a couple of serious weaknesses.

One is the continued use of the preponderance of evidence standard.  The problem with this is that accusations of assault, whether sexual or other, are accusations of felonies.  That demands the clear and convincing evidence standard.  Related to this is the investigation and adjudication itself.  Such accusations demand the police and a criminal court conduct the investigation and trial, not the school and its administrators.  Sexual harassment accusations also need a more serious standard of proof than 50%-plus-one-minim of belief.

And: as long as acquittals—however a college/university wants to style them—are appealable by the accuser, there still is no justice possible in the proceedings or the rules that structure them.

That Progressive-Democrats object even to this nod toward justice, though, is instructive for 2020 and what a Progressive-Democrat Congress and White House will do to individual liberty.

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