If you’re arrested on criminal charges, you have a right to defend yourself. The law affords you certain expectations for due process. You are innocent until proven guilty. At least, that’s how things are supposed to work. But for those accused of sexual misconduct in colleges and universities, the same rights don’t always apply.
As The Daily Beast reported, students and faculty accused of sexual misconduct often face disciplinary actions from their schools and universities. However, these disciplinary actions—and the investigations behind them—are not driven by the standards of criminal law. They’re enforced as civil complaints under the shadow of the Title IX rules against sexual discrimination and harassment.
A question of due process
Because the sexual misconduct claims brought to schools under Title IX are civil charges, the schools need only find a “preponderance of evidence.” In other words, the school only looks to see if the charges are more likely true than not. Reasonable doubt doesn’t matter. There can still be doubt. And the school can still move forward with its disciplinary actions.
However, even though this discipline is civil in nature, it can be every bit as damaging as a criminal conviction. Someone disciplined by a university for sexual misconduct may:
- Be suspended
- Lose their tuition money
- Lose scholarships
- Lose their job, in the case of faculty, and suffer great harm to their career
- Find their professional career delayed or derailed
- Suffer a loss of reputation
Given these stakes, it’s not surprising that more of the students and faculty facing such accusations have filed due process complaints. The Daily Beast notes these people complain that:
- They lack the chance to face their accusers
- They face bias from schools trying to reverse their histories of sexual abuse
- The schools start with a presumption of guilt
- The process has no transparency
In addition, an article in Forbes showed how administrators can unduly influence the proceedings. When a Boston College student accused one of her peers of sexually assaulting her during a dance, the police dismissed the charges due to a lack of evidence. But when a Boston College panel struggled with the lack of evidence, a dean pressured them to make some sort of finding. They ended up suspending the student.
Question the evidence
These incidents, and the hundreds of similar incidents, show how people’s attitudes have changed. Victims of sexual abuse have been more vocal. Many men have become more fearful of false allegations. Schools, jurors and others have become more inclined to believe accusers. Questions of due process are vital because the outcomes of these investigations and trials should lead to justice based on evidence, not attitudes.