Imagine for a moment you’re the male student at Amherst College, who, after a night out drinking with friends, accompanied a fellow student back to her dorm room. While you’re blacked out, she performs oral sex on you. Nearly two years later, she accuses you of sexual assault — and you’re expelled.
Before you object: That actually happened a few years ago. So, how are you feeling right about now? Confused? Wronged? Not keen on celebrating your “male privilege,” that’s for sure. Such injustices occur far too frequently and hang over the heads of male college students like a dark cloud.
I should know. I am a recent graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; the fear among my male peers of being falsely accused is palpable.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Candice Jackson, the acting assistant education secretary for civil rights and herself a sexual assault survivor, echoed that sentiment. She said that many of these cases “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’ ” She had to apologize for the remark.
But there’s good news: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems keen on getting justice right.
Jackson and her colleague, Thomas E. Wheeler, the acting assistant attorney general overseeing the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, indicated during a June 27 presentation at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Attorneys that they were looking to rescind the now-infamous 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. The Obama administration instructed colleges to tighten their procedures for dealing with sexual harassment complaints — or risk their federal funding.
DeVos recently told Congress members the department would now strike a neutral stance in such investigations.
In 2014, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, along with more than 50 other schools, were put on notice by the Department of Education for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit focused on defending civil liberties in higher education, is pleased with the new developments.
“It’s pretty clear that we could do a better job of protecting the rights of complainants and protecting the rights of the accused,” says Joe Cohn, FIRE’s legislative and policy director. “That balance has been missing for some time now.”
Jackson has said she wants to end the previous administration’s “gotcha approach” to Title IX complaints, which she has said are like “fishing expeditions” (i.e., investigators search until they find a violation rather than going where the evidence takes them).
“By allowing every accusation, no matter how implausible, to be taken as true, schools and the Obama administration made it more difficult for real victims,” says Ashe Schow, a writer for Real Clear Investigations and the Federalist who focuses on higher education.
Implausible is putting it mildly. The number of sex discrimination complaints filed with the Office for Civil Rights spiked to 2,354 in 2014 from 391 in 2010 — a 502 percent increase. This hike is the result of an ideological signal put out by the Obama administration and likely doesn’t reflect a real uptick in assaults.
President Donald Trump plans to assist DeVos. His proposed budget would slash OCR’s funding by 7 percent. Some object, arguing that this would diminish staff and resources at a time when complaints are on the rise.
Perhaps trimming budget bloat will force OCR to get its priorities straight and actually deal with sex discrimination in sports (the original purpose of Title IX) rather than perpetrate unconstitutional witch hunts on young men.
Due process is too important to be subordinated to the political and cultural moral panics of the age, and sexual misconduct is too heinous a crime to be adjudicated by self-interested administrators with no legal training. DeVos and Trump should work to reverse the Obama administration’s harmful standard operating procedure regarding campus sex discrimination. Doing so will restore some much needed sanity and justice to campuses.
Deion Kathawa is an editorial intern at The Detroit News and a University of Michigan graduate.