Feminist, women’s rights attorney and former judge on Harvard’s sex assault policy

OCR has clearly mandated that universities and colleges evaluate accusations of rape under a preponderance of the evidence standard. A preponderance of the evidence is in fact the lowest standard of proof that the legal system has to offer. In effect, if the evidence leans in favor of the victim to any degree, say 50.01 percent, that is sufficient. OCR’s rationale was that this was the standard for suits alleging civil rights violations, like sexual harassment. True enough, except for the fact that civil trials at which this standard is implemented follow months if not years of discovery—where each side finds out about the other’s case, knows the evidence and the accusations, and has lawyers to ask the right questions. Not so with the new Harvard regime, which has no lawyers, no meaningful sharing of information, no hearings. It is the worst of both worlds, the lowest standard of proof, coupled with the least protective procedures.

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But Harvard’s new policy goes further than OCR’s mandated preponderance standard. Harvard establishes a fact-finding process that takes place entirely within the four corners of a single office, the Title IX compliance office. The Title IX officer has virtually unreviewable power from the beginning of the proceeding to its end. The officer deals directly with the complaining witness, advises her, determines if the case should be investigated, proceeds to an informal or to a formal resolution. If there is a formal investigation, the Title IX officer appoints and trains the “Investigative Team,” which consists of one investigator, who is also an employee of the Title IX office, and a designee of the school with which the accused is affiliated. The investigative team notifies the accused of the written charges, giving him one week to respond. While he has a short deadline, there is no time limit for the complainant’s accusations, no period of time within which she must complain—what the law calls a statute of limitations.

Thereafter, the team interviews the parties and, if it deems appropriate, witnesses identified by the parties as well as any others it decides to consult. The team issues a final report on a preponderance standard and working jointly with the Title IX officer—who was in fact involved in the investigation throughout—may provide recommendations concerning the appropriate sanctions to the individual schools. There is an appeal, but it is to that same Title IX officer and only on narrow grounds. While the final sanction is determined by the individual school, the fact-findings on which that sanction is based—this critical administrative report—cannot be questioned.

As the letter of the 28 faculty members noted, this procedure does not remotely resemble any fair decision-making process with which any of us were familiar: All of the functions of the sexual assault disciplinary proceeding—investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review—are in one office, we wrote, and that office is a Title IX compliance office, hardly an impartial entity. This is, after all, the office whose job it is to see to it that Harvard’s funding is not jeopardized on account of Title IX violations, an office which has every incentive to see the complaint entirely through the eyes of the complainant.

http://prospect.org/article/sex-lies-and-justice

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