As a nation, we spent last week debating whether or not it is possible for someone who lacks a college degree to perform the duties required of an American president. At the same time, we pondered an educator’s impassioned case for treating college-age students like “children.” If these two debates sound at least a little incompatible, then you are probably not a college administrator.
Recently, campus authorities have become figures of scorn in the feminist press primarily in response to what the media has dubbed an “epidemic” of sexual violence in American colleges. This supposed scourge has led some states to take actions designed to absolve students of their responsibility to behave as consenting adults. “Affirmative consent” laws, which ensure that someone accused of sexual violence is regarded by adjudicators as guilty before being proven innocent, are symptomatic of this impulse. It is clear that the position taken by University of Chicago Law School Professor Eric Posner, who recently contended that college students are fragile kids who must be shielded from being both raped and/or offended (slights that he determines to be of roughly equal gravity), represents the consensus view among campus administrators.
But those who support this point of view rarely acknowledge the equally endemic plague of false rape accusations. Rolling Stone’s reputation may never recover from the fabulist tale of a gang rape initiation ceremony at the University of Virginia. Likewise, UVA’s overreaction to that fantastical yarn has cast indelible shame upon that campus’s bureaucrats. A Columbia University student who turned her story of sexual abuse into a performance art project attracted both national acclaim and attention. This student literally shouldered the burden of her assault by carrying her mattress to a variety of stations on campus with the aim of forcing the university to take disciplinary action against her alleged abuser. There is perhaps no better metaphor for stratospheric self-regard of today’s college students than this woman’s unsubtle attempt to cast herself in the role of Christ-like martyr. But her story, too, did not hold up under scrutiny.
When these stories were exposed as suspect, or even wholly fabricated, those members of the feminist press married to the notion of rampant and pervasive sexual assaults on campuses directed their ire at the journalists exposing popular but nevertheless misleading myths. But it has become self-evident that colleges have gone too far in their efforts to address on-campus sexual violence. The latest example of this phenomenon comes from Oregon via Ann Althouse. She discovered a essay recently authored by Professor Janet Halley in the Harvard Law Review that should boil the blood of anyone concerned with quaint notions like justice and due process.
I recently assisted a young man who was subjected by administrators at his small liberal arts university in Oregon to a month-long investigation into all his campus relationships, seeking information about his possible sexual misconduct in them (an immense invasion of his and his friends’ privacy), and who was ordered to stay away from a fellow student (cutting him off from his housing, his campus job, and educational opportunity) — all because he reminded her of the man who had raped her months before and thousands of miles away. He was found to be completely innocent of any sexual misconduct and was informed of the basis of the complaint against him only by accident and off-hand. But the stay-away order remained in place, and was so broadly drawn up that he was at constant risk of violating it and coming under discipline for that.
“When the duty to prevent a ‘sexually hostile environment’ is interpreted this expansively, it is affirmatively indifferent to the restrained person’s complete and total innocence of any misconduct whatsoever,” Halley noted.
Indeed, that is codified guilt by association – and presumed association, at that. This is a pure injustice, and it exposes the arbitrary and retributive nature of what many call “social justice.” This is nothing short of disgraceful, gender-specific discrimination precisely of a kind that these administrators are no doubt attempting to prevent.
If this is the environment into which parents must now contemplate thrusting their offspring, who are only just reaching the age of majority, surely many are beginning to wonder whether college is worth it. Both the increasing monetary and reputational costs of sending young people to America’s liberal arts colleges should give millions pause.