SYNDICATED COLUMN: No Man is Above the Law — Except on College Campuses

Freshman orientation, Columbia University, New York City, Fall 1981: Now as then, there were speeches. A blur of upperclassmen, professors and deans welcomed us, explained campus resources and laid out dos and donts. At one point, the topic of the campus drug policy came up. “You can do whatever you want in your dorm room,” we were told, “just make sure it’s OK with your roommate.” A ripple of surprise swept the audience. Several students asked for elaboration of this don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on illegal narcotics, and were told that they’d heard correctly.

One of my friends, who grew pot plants in his window, proved the wisdom of that advice. My pal’s Born Again Christian roomie, not consulted about his grow house scheme, attacked him in what became a legendary fistfight out of a Western.

No one was arrested, though there was a stern talking-to courtesy of the R.A.

(Columbia has since changed this policy.)

The weird alternative universe of law on campus is in the headlines again due to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ announcement that the Trump Administration plans to rewrite Obama-era Title IX rules to give male students accused of rape on college campuses more rights to defend themselves.

Under a 2011 directive university administrators were advised that their institutions could lose federal education funding unless they reduce the evidentiary standard for finding a defendant student guilty of sexual misconduct from “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the same as in criminal courts, in which jurors are asked to be roughly 90% or more certain of guilt to convict) to the lower “based on the preponderance of the evidence” standard used in civil courts (50% or more).

Victims rights advocates say campus rape is an epidemic problem, that local police can’t be trusted to take rape charges seriously or prosecute them aggressively, and that the relatively friendly campus tribunals of administrators operating under the lower standard of proof mandated by Title IX are necessary to encourage victims to step forward.

Men counter that those accused of rape shouldn’t lose their rights when they step on a college campus, and that innocent defendants have been railroaded by kangaroo courts in which they’re not allowed to have a lawyer or, in some cases, to present their full defense.

DeVos referred to the bizarre case of a USC football player expelled for abusing his girlfriend even though she insists there was no abuse. This followed the news that the rape defendant in the notorious 2015 “mattress case” in which his alleged victim carried her mattress around campus and to her commencement ceremony had earned a measure of vindication earlier this year when the university paid him to settle his lawsuit and issued a statement declaring that, after years of being publicly rape-shamed in international media, he had done nothing wrong after all.

Like students at colleges and universities across the United States, I was stunned to learn that college campuses are sort of like Native American reservations: zones where the law applies theoretically but in practice is systematically ignored or enforced at significant variance to the way things go in the outside world.

The shooting of a motorist on a city street off campus by a University of Cincinnati police officer highlighted the fact that two out of three colleges have armed police forces — and that some of these campus cops are told they have the right to arrest, and even shoot, non-students in surrounding neighborhoods.

At least today’s colleges aren’t brazenly stealing land from public parks, as Columbia did in 1968 when it began construction on a gym in Manhattan’s Morningside Park. (The land grab sparked a riot and iconic student takeover of campus.)

The debunking of that big Rolling Stone piece about a supposed rape at UVA aside, it doesn’t take a statistician to grok that college campuses, with their witches’ brew of young people out on their own for the first time, minimal adult supervision and free-flowing booze set the stage for date rape as well as sexual encounters where consent appears ambiguous. The question is: should college administrators substitute for cops and district attorneys in the search for justice? Emily Yoffe’s Atlantic series on DeVos’ proposal strongly suggests no.

Yoffe portrays a system that encourages males to feel victimized by being considered guilty until proven innocent. “To ensure the safety of alleged victims of sexual assault,” she writes, “the federal government requires ‘interim measures’ —accommodations that administrators must offer the complainant before any finding of responsibility, including steps to ensure that she never has to encounter the accused… Common interim measures include moving the accused from his dormitory, limiting the places he can go on campus, forcing him to change classes, and barring him from activities. On small campuses, this can mean his life is completely circumscribed. Sometimes he is banned from campus altogether while awaiting the results of an investigation.” This is an injustice, and saying it’s necessary in order to protect victims doesn’t change that.

The New York Times recently published an op-ed that embodied the glib view of defendants’ rights au courant on college campuses. “Of course, being accused of sexual assault hurts,” wrote Nicole Bedera and Miriam Gleckman-Krut. “And there are things that we can and should do to help accused students — namely, providing them with psychological counsel.” Seriously? Men accused of rape face expulsion, felony charges (schools can refer cases to the police) and blackballing from other colleges if they apply. They need more than therapy.

It’s easy to see why colleges, and many parents of students, want to maintain their personal on-campus legal systems outside the bounds of adult law and order. 18-year-olds are legally adults but psychologically still kids, the thinking goes. Sending even serious matters like rape charges to the police can seem like a second brutalization of victims, and perhaps even unnecessarily harsh to the accused who, if innocent, may be able to assuage doubts with a simple explanation of their actions to friendly university staff members.

Though largely well-intentioned, and despite the fact that it is opposed by the despicable Donald Trump, this Title IX-based paternalism has no place in a society that purports to respect the concept of equal justice under the law. If there’s an alleged crime on a campus, students should call the cops.

The answer to nonresponsive police who disrespect victims isn’t to truncate defendants’ rights under a parallel facsimile of jurisprudence. The solution is to reform the police and the courts so that victims aren’t traumatized all over again. Let law enforcement do its job, and let educators do theirs.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

15 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: No Man is Above the Law — Except on College Campuses

  1. > with their witches’ brew of young people out on their own for the first time, minimal adult supervision and free-flowing booze set the stage for date rape as well as sexual encounters where consent appears ambiguous

    Ay-yup. So far as I’m concerned the proper punishment for first degree rape is the loss of one testicle per conviction.

    But the ‘ambiguous consent’ thing is truly painful. I’ve talked to too many young people of both sexes who said, “We agreed that we were going to wait, but then (nature took its course)” That’s not rape – it’s ‘woefully unprepared for the real world’ and the parents are to blame; not the kids who are still learning to deal with the most powerful driving force in human nature. (Disclaimer: There are most assuredly fratrat scumbags out there deliberately targeting freshmen. They’re nominally adults and I see no reason to go easy on them. Second conviction and they won’t pass on their defective genes.)

    But In today’s sexualized world, we need to be realistic. Teach our children how to deal with those urges, EXPLICITLY. Teach boys & girls both about how their bodies work, how to please their partners, and most importantly how to communicate.

    ‘Abstinence education’ doesn’t work and never has, it just exacerbates the problem.

  2. It comes down to he-said she-said, with neither party having a monopoly on credibility.

    “In a world rife with consumerism, where online dating promises risk-free romance and love is all too often seen only as a variant of desire and hedonism, Alain Badiou believes that love is under threat.” — Blurb about “In Praise of Love”

    Recognize that in this commodified culture, many relations have a basis in contract before the state, and light of the state’s ham-fisted imposition of a rarely achieved ideal on relationships, one may ask, What could go wrong?

    Why is the word “fucked” used so frequently as a term of angered exasperation? I hypothesize that the desire to fuck often leaves one “fucked” against one’s better judgment, and so the derogatory connotation .

    Due to the transactional nature of sexual relations under capitalism, perhaps a temporary marriage contract should be required prior to the transaction, like a prenuptial contract as a precondition to having recourse to courts.

    Divorce is so common that premarital sexual relations, and marriage, should easily be recognized as a contract to be negotiated post-transaction in court, as distinct from a pre-transaction contract, like prostitution.

    There is some evidence that sexual relations were better on the east side of the German divide under its attempt at socialism.


    • “What’s blocking the pussy flow in Denmark? The country’s excellent social welfare services. Really.”

    • My ex-girlfriend got pregnant at 17 – on purpose. She came over looking for a good time, no strings attached, it’s not about love (her words) and then Surprise! I have a life-long commitment.

      I absolutely believe that men should not prevent women from getting abortions; IOW they should not be able for force women into unwanted parenthood. But then in an equitable society, women should not be able to force men into unwanted parenthood, either.

      • The West has better propaganda about sex and more traps to fall into after falling for the propaganda.

        “Some might remember that Eastern bloc women enjoyed many rights and privileges unknown in liberal democracies at the time, including major state investments in their education and training, their full incorporation into the labor force, generous maternity leave allowances and guaranteed free child care. But there’s one advantage that has received little attention: Women under Communism enjoyed more sexual pleasure.”

      • Having no history is an advantage for a candidate running for office in the US; reliance is made upon promises instead of personal history.

        Thus presidents like Obama and Trump, both candidates from nowhere with no experience except in selling an image. And the refreshing difference of Bernie Sanders, who actually had a record of backing the things he ran on.

        In this propaganda ridden society promises and impressions become the basis for making important life changing decisions, both in elections and personal relations.

        Glib promises are the staple of both elections and personal relations, just like the 17 year old girl who promises a no strings relationship, but who is really looking for something more—and reasonable so, I might add— than this society makes available and is willing to provide.

        And so by creating desirable package she attempts to get, by false means, what she needs and is otherwise unable to attain.

      • “women should not be able to force thosemen who would rather risk STDs and pregnancy than put up with the slight intrusion of wearing a condom but expect the woman to do all the work using far more intrusive contraceptive techniques into unwanted parenthood”

        fixed it for you?

      • @andreas5 – so you would put all of the responsibility on the shoulders of men? If two people mutually decide to have sex – with or without protection – it’s all the man’s fault? It’s not like the female of the species gets anything from a sex act that is solely conducted for the males’ pleasure. Poor little girly can’t be expected to understand the consequences of her decisions, so the boy must be at fault.

        Even today, that’s a very common & very chauvinistic attitude. It treats women the same way we treat minors, as if they are not mature enough to make their own decisions.

        In the past we dealt with it by strictly regulating the male’s access to the female. Women wanted freedom to make their own choices – including sexual ones.

        Freedom is a two-way street, it includes taking responsibility for one’s own actions. In the specific case mentioned above, she’d been on the pill & neglected to tell me she’d stopped taking it. But it’s still 100% my fault, right?

        Yeah, the judge thought so, too.

      • @Glenn –

        I used to raise purebred dogs & had a prize-winning male I’d hire out for stud. The agreement was signed before the dogs were let out to play, it included a stud fee and pick of the litter.

        Sounds like a sensible arrangement to me.

      • @ CH

        I know this is personal and I do get your point.

        However, there is more than the man’s and the woman’s perspective on that, and responsibility has so many more aspects than blame.

        To begin with, there is the child’s perspective. Does the child care about whose turn it was to use what kind of contraceptive? I think it cares more about where sustenance is going to come from and later about being wanted or not…

        Also there is the perspective of the state. In our system the state has the self-image that it ultimately takes care of citizen-children – even to the point of having social workers drag infants away from abusive or negligent parent. Why would the state have any compunction to get their hands on the parents (which still exist as a biological necessity aside from sperm banks which are registered with the state), including costly laboratory paternity testing and so on? And why would the state have any compunction to make them pay through the nose once it got its hands on them?

        As was mentioned repeatedly in this thread, in our capitalist system to which there is no alternative ™ each person is an island and takes their chances; consequently trust in other people is a risk taken at best and a liability at worst…

  3. This column touches on a set of interesting contradictions in cultural development.

    The good:
    Talking to millenials in general and students in particular, one does get the impression that they have quietly overcome a lot of the seemingly insurmountable sexism when it comes to their personal interactions. Young men seem to take it for granted that they are supposed to do the dishes and their share of housework and so on, tell me that they treat everyone in their circle of friends equally.

    [This of course by itself doesn’t address the more structural imbalances, equal pay for work, hiring, promotion, etc. though equal share in housework could go some way leveling the playing field even there]

    While I remain skeptical how far this goes – an instructive exercise is recording how long people with and without a penis talk in a gathering and in particular note who is speaking for how many seconds before someone (usually with a penis) interrupts or starts a side-conversations – some things do seem to have changed for the better with the current generation.

    The bad:
    On the other hand, from overhearing conversations, the same apparently culturally evolved young men’s range of conversation is apparently largely restricted to porn, how to encrypt one’s connection when downloading porn, and perhaps some gray area “pick-up artistry” thrown in the mix.

    Campuses have also changed completely in the neo-liberal age: the image of the student as worker – mostly to get job-qualifications but also vaguely in the sense of self-betterment – has given way to the student as consumer, with universities competing over who offers the best amenities, swimming pools, etc. The logical, if somewhat sad, end point are those trigger warnings in (old) books which are (therefore) not just full of mediocre-but-safe neo-liberal drivel that right-wingers get so worked up over.

    The ugly:
    Now take the date rape scenario, i.e. assault, amateur anesthesia which can itself lead to permanent damage, etc. Clearly one could perhaps understand why administrations do get a little twitchy – enough to engage in a poster campaign always aimed at victims (“don’t go on dates and drink”) and never at would-be-perpetrators (“real men dare to ask and take no for an answer and don’t hit women over the head with a club”). Newspapers usually hush up suicides so not to give people ideas, but on campus the option of poisoning your date to get what technically may just still qualify as sex is constantly thrown in people’s faces…

    Most of the stuff in the column seems to be concerned with how to deal with the fall-out, which is a fiendishly hard problem, rather than prevention. Personally speaking, the most pressing difficulty for prevention is that a buff young man dressed up in a fancy suit hauling a semi-conscious petite girl in a short dress to their room is unfortunately a quite commonplace occurrence. By itself does not really indicate foul play as drinking oneself into a stupor apparently still the thing to do when partying (by both men and women) so there are no grounds to intervene. “I was drugged and woke up on the other side of town, why hasn’t anyone seen me getting dragged around let alone stopped them?” “Meh, we all have seen you being dragged but thought nothing of it.”

    I suggest there should be a dedicated paramedical team on standby which are given the monopoly on transferring semi-conscious girls unless the hauler can produce IDs of both themselves and the person hauled and a signed note that they are trusted haulers. At least this would give students the freedom to drink themselves into a stupor in peace, much like the leeway they were given with drugs in the good old days.

  4. The entire university criminal “justice” system is built around expediency and protecting the university’s name. What is describe in the post is their SOP. It only makes the national news when it involves rape or sexual assault. I was on non-profit board that owned and operated off-campus housing. At least once a year, we would get pulled into a campus case.

    The official steps in an university case were (1) Receive compliant. (2) Investigate It (3) Review Evidence & charges with student and/or accuser. (4) Arbitrate agreement. (5) If that fails, hold a formal hearing. (6) Pass judgement.

    I have never seen them follow the process. The real process was (1) Receive Compliant (2) Assume Guilt (3) start investigation (4) Pass Judgement and enforce punishment. (5) Complete investigation.

    Generally this rush to judgement usually involved handing out student probation or occasional suspensions. If someone was guilty of a more serious crime (e.g. assault, sexual assault), they could use this system to avoid real punishment; while someone that was innocent or guilt of a minor offense would be overly punished.

    Business as usual was my reaction when I first read about the UVA rape case being fake.