Writing this week in The Huffington Post, the Student Press Law Center’s Adam Goldstein argues that campus judiciaries are ill-suited for adjudicating claims of sexual assault. Prompted by recent revelations in the national press about Oklahoma State University’s shocking failure to report a student accused of serial sexual assault to local law enforcement, Adam concludes that campus judicial processes simply shouldn’t handle sexual assault charges. He writes:
There are a number of possible morals to this story.
One is that, if you find someone you believe to have committed four sexual assaults, there are probably other claims, if you bother to look.
Another is that Oklahoma State was wrong when it claimed it was unable to turn this information over to investigators, and the Student Press Law Center’s Executive Director Frank LoMonte addresses the legal problems with their rationale on our FERPA FACT blog. So I wanted to use this space to make a different, but related point.
The moral I want to talk about is this: Campus disciplinary processes ought to be adjudicating plagiarism and library fines and basically nothing else. The idea that these processes could be used to meaningfully adjudicate claims of sexual assault is a joke.
(Emphasis in original.) Commenting on FIRE’s focus on ensuring that students accused of serious misconduct like sexual assault are afforded meaningful due process protections, Adam makes an interesting, related argument: that even with due process, campus judiciaries aren’t sufficiently trained and can’t impose serious enough punishments to make their involvement useful for any party:
Recently, our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have been involved in a debate over that lower standard of proof the Department of Education set for sexual assault cases. While they’re right on the standard, fixing the standard won’t fix the problem.
To me, this is like saying we have a gun, and we’re handing it to an infant, and we’re arguing over whether to take the safety off first. I suppose it’s safer to leave the safety on, yes. But babies shouldn’t have guns.
Similarly, universities should not be creating substitute mock justice systems to adjudicate serious crimes. They’re no more qualified than the baby. And perhaps the fact that schools like Oklahoma State choose to do so is a vestige of a society that, historically, has not treated sexual assault seriously in the academic context.
If a university declined to tell the police about murder, or arson, or kidnapping, or armed robbery, we would be rightly disgusted. We would not entertain the university’s defenses that the amateur investigators on its conduct board attended an hour-long training session on arson evidence, or that they held a mock kidnapping trial and thus should be considered adequate substitutes for real law enforcement.
Why is it, then, that we permit universities to investigate sexual assaults — let alone serial sexual assaults? Why do we permit them to impose a sanction like, “walk away from here scot-free and come back in three years, presumably because we don’t think sexual violence is a crime anyone performs more than four times?”
Check out Adam’s thought-provoking piece in full over at The Huffington Post.
William Creeley is FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy.
Used with the permission of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.