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  (Curtis Lantinga)
  (Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

The escalating war against campus ‘rape culture’ Add to ...

Here’s how to get expelled if you go to university in the United States.

At Occidental College in California, an 18-year-old freshman had sex with a 17-year-old woman. Both were drunk at the time. According to her own account, she had gone to his room for sex and even asked if he had a condom. In retrospect, however, she claimed she was too drunk to consent, and he should have known it. The college agreed, and kicked him out.

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At Vassar, a student named Peter Yu had drunken sex with a woman on his rowing team. Her father was on the faculty. She waited a year to file a complaint, after which he was swiftly expelled. The case was heard by three fellow faculty members.

Anthony Villar, a third-year student at Philadelphia University, dated a woman for two years before the night he allegedly assaulted her. Hours after they had sex, they had dinner at her parents’ house. She invited him to come back the following day, then, months later, accused him of rape. A disciplinary board took less than 45 minutes to find him guilty of sexual misconduct and expelled him. According to a lawsuit he has filed in federal court, the girlfriend accused him after he admitted he’d been cheating on her.

You may wonder why universities are adjudicating these cases in the first place. Assault and rape are serious matters, and should be decided in court like any other serious crime. Some of the cases at issue here amount to nothing more than sexual misunderstanding, if that. But campuses across North America believe they have a special duty to root out sexual harassment and misconduct, however slight, and have devised elaborate procedures and conduct codes to do so.

And they’re running scared. In the United States, activists have a powerful weapon, known as Title IX, the historic federal law that outlaws gender discrimination in public education programs. They are using Title IX to claim their civil rights have been violated.

Now Washington has joined in the crusade. A special White House task force has been struck to combat sexual assault problems on campus. As Joe Biden, the Vice-President, declared last April, “Many of our schools just aren’t safe.” The White House has repeated the statistic that one in every five women will be assaulted during her academic career – despite the fact it has been debunked as a wild exaggeration even by liberal commentators.

Fifty-five colleges and universities are now under federal investigation for possible Title IX violations regarding sexual violence, including big names like Harvard, Princeton and Swarthmore. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding could be at stake. Most of the investigations were triggered by complaints from student activists.

To respond to the alleged crisis, the federal Department of Education has instructed campuses to abandon what most people would think of as due process. It has advised them to switch to a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which means that an accused person can be convicted if his judges are only 51 per cent sure he’s guilty. Unlike real courts, procedural safeguards are often minimal or absent. Cross-examination is discouraged. The burden of proof has switched to the accused. And, as we’ve seen, the notion of “sexual misconduct” is very broad indeed.

Even Title IX officials are unhappy with the way things are going. “Some boards and panels still can’t tell the difference between drunk sex and a policy violation,” warned Brett Sokolow, director of the Association of Title IX Administrators. He thinks the whole mess has simply created a new class of victims, and he’s right.

All three of the students mentioned here have launched lawsuits, as have many, many others. As the Occidental student told the Los Angeles Times, “Occidental is turning drunken sex into rape. … In an effort to curb the epidemic of sexual assault on campus, the pendulum is swinging too far the other way.”

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