By KC Johnson
The Chronicle of Higher Education has received a good deal of attention for putting together a website cataloguing all the Title IX complaints currently pending with the Obama administration’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). But the site should mostly be seen as a concrete demonstration of how little we know about these complaints, and how poorly the media as a whole has done in covering this issue.
Even before the issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011, a marriage of convenience had developed between OCR and campus activists eager to weaken due process for students accused of sexual assault. In contrast to the Bush administration, OCR made clear by implication if not openly, it would welcome Title IX complaints, as a bludgeon to pressure universities to change their policies—if only the activists would file such complaints. And so local activists, increasingly organized by groups such as Know Your IX, SurvJustice, and End Rape on Campus, started filing complaints.
The Title IX complaint against Yale—which produced the grossly unfair procedures that ensnared, among others, Patrick Witt—was the first example of this new process in action.
The only university that appears to have resisted OCR pressure was Tufts, and it did so only briefly, before backing down. The combined threat of bad publicity and a loss of federal funds—coupled with the fact that many on campus agree with the activists’ anti-due process agenda—has explained the remarkable academic passivity to this federal overreach.
OCR has followed the highly unusual strategy of releasing the names of colleges or universities under investigation, but refusing to release any of the details as to what prompted the Title IX complaint. And so, over and over again, the Chronicle website has lines such as these: “Sexual assault gained attention on the campus when the Office for Civil Rights notified leaders [and, of course, the public] in October that it had launched an investigation.”
OCR hasn’t explained why it has pursued this shaming strategy—whose only purpose seems to be to heighten the frenzy about the campus sexual assault issue and invite the media to assume the worst.
It’s not as if the agency doesn’t eventually release most of the details of complaints. Take, for instance, one of the most recent resolution letters, involving Michigan State University. There, once the matter was resolved, OCR published in some detail (without revealing the complainants’ identities) the initial allegations against the school. (In both instances, accusers claimed that the university had waited too long to investigate the charges, one of which was deemed baseless.)
OCR spares no details in these resolution letters: in the Michigan State case, for instance, the resolution letter included such unique details as the following: “In November 2010, during the investigation, Student A encountered the two male students in a University building where all of the students studied. The two male students were sitting in a private tutoring room with their tutor. While the door was closed, Student A could see the male students through a glass panel in the door. Student A remained outside the male students’ tutoring room for approximately 30 minutes.
When the male students were finished with their tutoring session, they left the room and walked past her to exit the building. Student A called the police to report that the male students had violated their PPOs by not leaving the building when she entered it. Student A stated that the male students were supposed to stay 500 feet away from her, but that the police had told her that the 500-foot rule has exceptions. After this encounter, the male students were assigned to a specific study area in the building that was separate from Student A’s study area and required them to use a separate entrance from the general student body.”
(This burden was placed on these two students, who also had been reassigned to a remote dorm on campus, even though the allegation was unfounded.)
This level of specificity, of course, ensures that those who knew both the accuser and accusers on campus would likely now learn about the sexual assault allegation. If the agency plans to release such details eventually, why not right off the bat? Perhaps because it sounded much worse to hear “Michigan State Under Title IX Investigation” than to learn that the allegation was that the school took long to conclude that an unfounded sexual assault allegation was, in fact, unfounded—and that the accused students had done nothing wrong.
An administration committed to transparency should release the details of the allegations, so the public could decide for themselves the seriousness of the Title IX complaints. That the Obama administration has chosen not to do so—as the Chronicle website helps to demonstrate—only compounds its bad faith on the issue of campus due process.
KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.