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‘Rights of the accused cannot be sacrificed to make their accusers feel comfortable’: LA Times editorial

The University of California-San Diego’s treatment of a student accused of sexual misconduct was not only unfair in the eyes of a state judge, but also to the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times.

The editorial generally supports the overhaul of sexual-misconduct policies and investigations at the behest of the Department of Education. “But in revamping their procedures, some schools have set up campus tribunals that curtail the basic rights of the accused,” it says:

Schools traditionally hold student conduct hearings to rule on a variety of alleged transgressions such as plagiarism, cheating and sexual assault. The UC San Diego panel appears to have broken none of the school’s rules for procedure. But the judge was correct that those rules were insufficient to protect the rights of the accused. The accused (like the accuser) was allowed a lawyer, but the lawyer was not permitted to participate in the proceeding beyond advising the client. Both parties were present, but the accuser sat in the hearing room behind a screen, to avoid any additional trauma. The judge rightly found that separation unnecessary.

Hearings like this one are not criminal proceedings, and they cannot result in prison sentences or other criminal sanctions. But fundamental due process rights should apply even in quasi-judicial settings. Most sexual assault victims don’t lie, of course — and they should certainly be treated with respect and sensitivity — but the rights of the accused cannot be sacrificed to make their accusers feel comfortable. The accused deserve a full and fair opportunity to cross-examine, ask questions, challenge statements and look into the eyes of their accusers.

Note what’s left out of the editorial: the unreliable 2-8 percent false-accusation statistic that’s increasingly deployed to defend campus investigative practices that are heavily tilted against accused students. The editorial board members probably felt safer using their own “preponderance of the evidence” standard and figured that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, 50.01 percent of the time.

The editorial encourages accusing students to “report these crimes to police” and schools to ensure that “the basic rights of the accused are not abridged.”

Read the editorial.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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