Rape is a serious crime, but too often federal policies have forced colleges tododge basic legal protections for the accused.
Like many overzealous state interventions, the federal government’s actions were well-intentioned. Sexual assault is certainly a grave problem, particularly in college environments, where many still-immature young people, newly unshackled from parental supervision, have easy access to drugs, alcohol and encounters with the opposite sex. But the government, and universities under its direction, have gone too far, and, as a result, threatened and violated the rights of the innocent.
In an April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education Department notified colleges, under the threat of the loss of federal funding, that they must aggressively investigate allegations of sexual assault to avoid violating Title IX rules against gender discrimination. Moreover, it deemed that the “clear and convincing” standard of proof should be downgraded to the mere “preponderance of the evidence” standard used for civil — not criminal — cases.
This prompted numerous schools to adopt policies that have resulted in many falsely charged students being found guilty, being expelled from school and having their reputations unjustly ruined. A recent report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that 74 percent of the 53 top American universities examined do not guarantee that accused students are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and less than half (47 percent) require that tribunals be impartial.
Just this year, for example, University of Southern California student and football player Matt Boermeester was expelled based on the complaint of a neighbor, despite the fact that both the accused and his girlfriend stated that they were merely roughhousing in the front yard.
“When I told the truth about Matt, in repeated interrogations, I was stereotyped and was told I must be a ‘battered’ woman, and that made me feel demeaned and absurdly profiled,” the girlfriend, recent USC graduate Zoe Katz, said.
Sometimes these rules turn the notion of victimhood on its head. In 2015, a male student at Amherst College was expelled for sexual assault after his girlfriend’s roommate performed oral sex on him while he was blacked out drunk.
It is welcome news, then, that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has announced that these policies will be subject to public comment and revised.
“Through intimidation and coercion,…