Yale's Flawed UWC Sexual Misconduct Policies

            Yale is concerned that students facing sexual misconduct charges might not fully understand the manner in which such complaints are handled.  So the university is creating a list of advisors who can assist both complainants and respondents, according to a recent story in the Yale Daily News. Paradoxically, the rules governing the handling of these complaints deprive students of the right to have a lawyer assist them. If the university were serious about protecting the rights of accused students, it would permit lawyers to represent students.

            The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, UWC, is a murky, medieval sort of entity. It is chaired by an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor, David Post. It is advised by a Title IX Steering Committee, a group tasked with creating policies and procedures designed and intended to assure that the university complies with Title IX reporting and investigative protocols. Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler is the university’s Title IX Coordinator. The university has its own legal counsel.

            Access to lucrative federal grants hangs on compliance with Title IX. That means the university must commit to, and execute, a policy of non-compliance with on-campus sexual misconduct. It must investigate, and, where appropriate, discipline.

            It must due this in the hothouse environment of an undergraduate collegiate environment, where hormones often prove the truth of what David Hume once said in a far more cerebral context: Reason is, and always shall be, the slave of the passions.

            As fashions change, so do moral crusades. Just now, campuses, including Yale, are often accused of not doing enough to clamp down on sexual misconduct. A new prudery is in the air. `No' doesn’t just mean`no' any longer. Unwary students are best advised to get a sworn affidavit before the next kiss. A misstep can put you in front of the UWC, and, candidly, behind bars.

            The university knows this. It employs its own police department. Yale police officers investigate claims of sexual misconduct, and report their findings to the university. Yale police officers also have a close working relationship with the New Haven police department, and with local prosecutors. At any given moment, prosecutors may be investigating a handful of Yale sexual misconduct cases.

            A student facing a sexual misconduct complaint from a fellow students is looking at far more than mere expulsion – a felony record, prison time, registration as a sex offender, a lengthy period of intrusive probation also hang in the balance. That the university thinks a part-time “advocate” rushed through some university orientation on sexual misconduct policies is capable of protecting an accused’s interests is staggeringly naïve.

            I understand the impulse to keep lawyers our of the UWC proceedings. Yale is family, the argument goes – a community of scholars learning to live together. Bringing litigious barbarians – lawyers – into the temple soils everyone and everything. That’s fine reasoning when the stakes are low. But when prison waits in the wings, doesn’t the university think its students are worthy of the best possible defense?

            Current rules permit an accused to hire a lawyer. That lawyer can run interference with the police, deciding when, and if, to cooperate with the investigation. A lawyer can also advise the student on his rights and duties under the written policies of the university. Given enough time, the lawyer can also help prepare the student to appear at the UWC hearings.

            But lawyers cannot appear at university hearings on behalf of the accused.

            That’s ridiculous. A university devoted to taking care of its students should see to it that its charges aren’t thrown to politically correct wolves.

            Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, nailed it:  “Schools at the very least should be providing students with the right to hire lawyers who can actively participate,… It’s a safeguard on making sure that someone is representing the student’s , and only the student’s, interests,” he said.

            What is Yale afraid of, really?



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