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Attacks on Betsy DeVos show ‘how ideological and unmoored the campus rape debate has become’

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Observers who aren’t enthusiastic about Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary continue to denounce the witch hunt against her for tacit support of campus due process (disclosure).

“You might not like DeVos’s financial conflicts or her family’s record on LGBT issues — I don’t,” writes Dante Ramos, editor of the Ideas section in the Boston Globe and a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist, in a column this week.

But by condemning her for donations to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the “#DearBetsy campaign and the controversy over her FIRE donations show how ideological and unmoored the campus rape debate has become,” Ramos says.

He recounts how a sexual-assault investigation turned into a fascist show trial at Brandeis, which “gutted” protections for accused students a year after the Department of Education released its 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter on such investigations:

In the 2012 handbook, “there was no requirement that copies of any ‘substantiating materials’ submitted by the accuser, or the names of any witnesses, be shown or provided to the accused any time,” wrote Judge F. Dennis Saylor, who reviewed Brandeis’s procedures in connection with a lawsuit in federal court. Saylor went on, “The accused had no right to confront or cross-examine the accuser, no right to call witnesses, and no right to confront or cross-examine the accuser’s witnesses. The accused had no right to review all the evidence.”

In the context of American legal culture, this is crazy. When corporate polluters get sued, not even the most passionate environmentalist would deny them details of the accusations against them. While violent crime devastates a community, progressives in particular would be aghast at efforts to repeal the Fourth and Fifth Amendments for suspected armed robbers.

Pro-accuser advocates like to say that campus investigations aren’t court proceedings, so they don’t need any semblance of fairness to the accused, but this is bollocks when you look at the actual accusations in the Brandeis case (between a gay male couple, as it happens), Ramos says:

Brandeis found him responsible for supposed misdeeds such as kissing J.C. while he was asleep, looking at his private areas when they showered together, and, at one point, sought to initiate a sexual act without formally asking permission. In other words, Doe behaved like normal, nonpredatory adults sometimes do when they’re dating.

The examiner treated their relationship as irrelevant.

Ramos denounces the “outrage-amplification machine” – specifically naming and shaming The Huffington Post and ThinkProgress – for savaging Brandeis for not expelling the accused student.

Their deeply ignorant responses show that “any backtracking by Trump’s administration will be greeted by suspicion at liberal colleges,” he says:

Yet those of us who generally believe in governmental activism, and think public and private schools alike should look after their students to the best of their abilities, should also recognize the limits of a university’s omniscience. …

To avoid adverse publicity, schools have an incentive to keep all proceedings quiet, which means it’s impossible to tell from the outside whether they’re adjudicating cases fairly.

When students like John Doe are labeled as sexual assailants, while many victims of serious crimes still feel ignored, the problem is that colleges and universities are being pushed to do a job they’re not cut out to do. Sexual violence is a crime. Federal policy should press students and schools to involve law enforcement in every case. It shouldn’t just make harried college bureaucracies take on more investigations — only with ever more draconian rules.

Read the column.

Editor’s Note: This post has been amended to include a disclosure. 

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