Secretary Betsy DeVos recently announced that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will review the controversial Title IX guidelines on sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment disseminated by the Obama administration. The new leadership at OCR has already made an important change in enforcement policy: no longer does it follow the 2014-2016 strategy of turning every sexual violence complaint filed by an individual into a well-publicized compliance review of the entire educational institution in question.
Dear Colleague Letter from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights decreased legal protection for those accused of sexual assault on college campuses.
False accusations of rape are no joke. Just ask the Duke lacrosse team or the University of Virginia fraternity brothers who were smeared in Rolling Stone magazine. Such high-profile travesties of justice are the tip of an iceberg that has now been documented in detail by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, Jr.
The atmosphere on many American campuses is thick with intimidation of anyone who might dissent from a poisonous version of feminist orthodoxy. Strident accusations and demands would not have been enough, though, without widespread acquiescence in politically driven lies about sexual assault. College bureaucrats, the media, and cowardly politicians, including some very prominent Republicans, have all contributed to a culture in which simple procedural fairness is treated as though it were part of a “war on women.” This problem will not be solved with a stroke of anyone’s pen. But some significant steps can be taken very expeditiously by the Trump administration.
I want to mention two additional developments in the sexual assault area that suggest that people are beginning to protest and push back against infringements of due process and fairness.
First, 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania Law School faculty have written an Open Letter criticizing the University’s new procedures for investigating and adjudicating complaints of sexual assault. The letter refers to the pressure placed on the University to adopt these procedures under threat of withdrawal of federal funds, but notes that the procedures undermine “many protections long deemed necessary to protect from injustice those accused of serious offenses.” The 16 faculty members comprise a politically diverse group with both liberals and conservatives significantly represented. This Open Letter builds upon the momentum of another such letter from members of the Harvard Law faculty.
Feminism expresses, teaches, and even thrives on a contradiction. Put simply, feminism does not know whether to say that women are capable or vulnerable. If women are capable, they deserve to be independent—particularly of men. If they are vulnerable, they need to be protected, particularly from men.
Today’s movement to protect college women from sexual assault, led by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education, is riven right through with that contradiction. So far, universities have meekly submitted to being instructed by what the OCR, with a phrase for the books, calls “significant guidance.”
Before delving into the OCR’s mandate, it is best to examine the contradiction within feminism that both characterizes and inspires it.