The Thinking 

Sexual Assault and Civil Liberties on Campus

August 17, 2012


EDWARD BARTLETT, of Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), sends the following summary of recent events on college campuses under the new U.S. Department of Education sexual assault directive.

Civil Liberties Took a Beating on College Campuses

The first full academic year following the Department of Education’s release of its Sexual Assault Directive has come to a close. The Directive was announced by the Office for Civil Rights on April 4, 2011 without prior notice or opportunity for public comment. Two days later, civil rights expert Wendy Kaminer deplored the “authoritarian impulse” that gave rise to the Directive and predicted it would occasion, in her words, “tragic deprivations of liberty.” (1)

Several of these cases, reported in the media during the 2011-2012 school year, had been adjudicated before the OCR policy took effect:

University of Hawaii at Manoa

September 20, 2011 — Following news of seven allegations of sexual assault filed during the previous academic year, the University’s security chief Wayne Ogino stated that a student could be evicted from a campus dormitory solely on the basis of an accusation. Ogino did acknowedge, however, that some rape accusations did turn out to be “unfounded.” (2)

University of North Dakota

October 25 — Sherry Warner-Seefeld, mother of an expelled University of North Dakota student who had been falsely accused of sexual assault, announced her son would not return to the university. Previously, a Grand Forks prosecutor had charged an unnamed woman with making a false rape allegation against Caleb Warner. Despite that fact, the University refused to reverse its decision for nearly two years — only after an outside civil rights group decided to intervene. (3)

Yale University

January 26, 2012 — The New York Times published an article regarding an alleged assault by Yale University’s star quarterback Patrick Witt (4). Following the accusation, which was never substantiated, Witt lost his opportunity to win a Rhodes scholarship.

The NYT article also revealed that Yale has established a back-door process to handle sexual assault allegations: “Yale offers accusers a choice between making a formal complaint and an informal one…. In that process, an individual or a few members of the committee are charged with resolving the issue, without a full investigation or a finding of guilt or innocence.” Under the informal system, accused students are not afforded an opportunity to present evidence to refute the charge.

University of North Carolina

April 24 – At the University of North Carolina, it was revealed that a person accused of sexual assault is barred from having an attorney present during the hearing: “Neither a licensed attorney nor a person who has passed a state bar examination may serve as the investigator or defense counsel or be present during proceedings,” according to the UNC policy. (5)

Cornell University

April 27 – The Cornell Daily Sun reported that the university had implemented a policy similar to the one followed at the University of North Carolina: “Under the new policy, students accused of sexual assault will not have the right to have an attorney cross-examine their accuser–a right that students accused of other offenses will retain,” the newspaper ironically reported. (6)

Brown University

May 29 — The Brown Spectator released the results of a student journalist’s investigation regarding an allegation by Marcella Dresdale, who alleged in 2006 that she had been sexually assaulted by fellow student William McCormick. Marcella is the daughter of a prominent Brown University benefactor.

The Spectator article revealed that university administrators had bypassed normal investigative channels, ceding their authority to Dresdale’s father and to a student residential counselor who admitted that he had become “very close” to the alleged victim. McCormick later sued Brown University and Mr. Dresdale, eventually agreeing to a settlement for an undisclosed amount. (7)

Xavier University

August 1 – The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the DED Office for Civil Rights had reached an agreement with Xavier University to upgrade its sexual assault training and reporting programs. The accord followed a judge’s finding of Sean Marron’s innocence on four counts of sexual assault. The judge dismissed the criminal allegations “due to inconsistencies” in the accusers’ accounts and a lack of evidence. (8)

Civil rights expert KC Johnson, who played a prominent role in exposing the fraudulent rape claims in the 2006 Duke lacrosse case, recounts:

“The OCR makes clear its contempt for the judge’s ruling in the Marron case. Under the terms of the agreement, if Marron returns to Xavier (he’s currently enrolled at another school in Ohio), Xavier must explore prohibiting Marron’s enrollment in the same ‘same courses, academic activities, and extracurricular activities’ in which one of the accusers — or, in the OCR’s language, one of the ‘victims’ — is enrolled.” (9)

University of Montana

August 8 – Following a rape accusation against University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson, defense attorney Kirsten Pabst accused state prosecutors of using the case to “try to send a message” that they were taking sexual assault allegations seriously, according to a USA Today report. Pabst was the chief deputy county prosecutor before entering private practice this past spring. In May, the U.S. Justice Department and Department of Education announced plans to investigate the university following reports of sexual assault on campus. (10)

Evictions without due process. Institutional denial of perjury. Secret proceedings. The exclusion of legal counsel. Benefactor interference. Federal second-guessing of judicial decision-making.

These are hallmarks of the tragic deprivations of liberty now taking place on campuses across the country.

See citations here.

Laura writes to Mr. Bartlett:

If several of these cases were adjudicated before the OCR policy took effect, how are they related to the OCR policy?

Mr. Bartlett responds:

Some cases were adjudicated after the OCR policy took effect. Even if the case was initially adjudicated before the policy was implemented, any subsequent appeals are certain to affected.

The situation was bad in the first place, and the OCR policy is making things worse.

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