Make student justice fair
Published: Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 16:06
The United States secretary of education's assistant secretary for civil rights, Russlynn H. Ali, has issued a new directive on sexual violence to college officials all across the country, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The directive lowers the standard that college disciplinary committees have to use when determining the guilt of an individual.
Ali is in the wrong for issuing this directive, because its application has the potential of providing unfair justice toward students, and men in particular.
Ali bases her action on the Title IX equity statute, which Ali says guarantees students a right to an education that does not discriminate on the basis of sex.
She claims that sexual assault and harassment violate this right, and colleges that don't pursue offenders aggressively can be found in violation of this statute and lose federal dollars.
According to the Chronicle, many colleges employ what is known as a "beyond a reasonable doubt" or "clear and convincing" standard. The Chronicle estimates that "reasonable doubt" requires a 98 percent certainty of guilt, and that "clear and convincing" requires 80 percent certainty. Ali wants to relax that standard, to "preponderance of the evidence," under which a person can be found guilty of a crime if members of a disciplinary committee believe there is slightly more than a 50/50 chance that the person committed the crime.
Where this comes into play for men is if they are brought before disciplinary committees in cases of rape or sexual assault. With this new standard, it is much easier to convict someone of a crime without definitively proving their guilt. This could lead to many innocent students with good grades and otherwise solid reputations being branded with a scarlet letter.
Being charged with a crime like rape is no small matter. The standard for proving guilt in this instance and other crimes should remain a high one. Even if a person is ultimately found innocent, the charge can leave a stain on a person's reputation and affect their future careers.
One clear example provided by the Chronicle is the case of the three Duke University lacrosse players who were falsely accused of gang rape. Despite abundant evidence of their innocence, no one — not the police, the prosecutor or Duke's president — seemed to care. The article goes on to say that student vigilantes put up "Wanted" posters across the campus that displayed photos of the players. After spending many months under a cloud of suspicion, the charges were eventually dropped against these men.
Under Ali's proposed system, these students could have been found guilty early on with significantly less evidence than what would normally be presented.
Ali claims that her reason for taking this new step is that the number of rape cases on campuses has increased, and she cites a study that finds 19 percent, or almost one in five women, will be a victim of assault, or attempted assault, during their years at college. The Chronicle notes that these types of studies are hard to conduct and can be inconsistent. The Justice Department stamped a disclaimer on every page of the study, saying the study is not a publication of theirs and does not necessarily reflect their views.
In America, we believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty. In courtrooms, we require guilt to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That standard should remain and apply to all college disciplinary committees in the U.S. Ali should rescind her directive.