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One official as detective, judge and jury in Penn State rape investigations

Pennsylvania State University, one of the schools investigated by the Department of Education for its handling of sexual-assault claims, has implemented new rules around investigations based on task force recommendations, The Inquirer reports.

Though the report leads with Penn State requiring “most” of the school’s 34,000 employees “to report allegations of sexual misconduct” – previously that was limited only to “campus security authorities” – the more momentous change would seem to be the imposition of a single-investigator model:

[President Eric] Barron said the university will move first to hire someone to oversee all issues around Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and requires universities to investigate sexual assaults. A standalone office also will be created. …

Under a panel recommendation, students no longer will serve on panels that hear cases and decide on sanctions. Only trained faculty and staff will fill that role. Also, an investigator will interview victims, the accused, and witnesses, then prepare a report for the panel. Now, the victim and the accused go before the panel and tell their stories.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sounded the alarm when the University of Pennsylvania adopted the same White House-recommended model last fall, as The College Fix reported:

FIRE has repeatedly stated our concerns about the single-investigator model, which empowers one individual to serve as detective, judge, and jury, and which dispenses with the notion that someone accused of serious wrongdoing should have the opportunity to challenge his or her accuser’s testimony.

Observers should ask exactly what training these Penn State panel members are getting, as FIRE said in the fall regarding Penn’s new rules:

In the spring of 2012, Penn offered a guide that it had developed “for members of its student discipline panels” as a “template for other nonprofit colleges and universities.” That guide consists of “17 tips for student discipline adjudicators,” none of which addresses the essentiality of due process for accused students, and some of which raise serious concerns about the impartiality of Penn’s sexual misconduct hearing panels.

One of the tips, for example, is that “false allegations of rape are not common.” The sole source cited for this statement is a study co-authored by David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who has spoken extensively on college campuses at the invitation of campus sexual assault activists. While false allegations may or may not be rare, there is a serious question as to the appropriateness of including such a claim in materials supposedly intended to train impartial sexual assault adjudicators.

Read the Inquirer story.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.