Yale Defends Its Star Chamber Hearings

The Obama administration, acting through the Office of Civil Rights, has made a terrible mess out of sexual misconduct hearings on our campuses, but it did one good thing without thinking much about it: it targeted one university—Yale—for regular reports on how it dealt in sexual assault hearings.

The reports, released by Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, are bare-boned and hardly meant to be informative, but they have included enough information to demonstrate the fundamental unfairness of Yale’s procedures and the witch hunt atmosphere that has permeated the campus. Perhaps for this reason, OCR has avoided instituting a reporting requirement like Yale’s on any other institution.

Recently, Yale’s dubious policies came under higher-than-usual scrutiny, thanks to a perceptive Wall Street Journal op-ed from Jennifer Braceras—who correctly noted that the accused enjoyed far more rights under the notorious Star Chamber than they do in Yale’s sexual assault disciplinary tribunals. Jack Montague, Braceras noted, discovered first-hand just how unfair Yale’s procedures could be.

He had no right to direct cross-examination, no right to have a lawyer fully participate in the process, and received a judgment from a “trained” panel that seemed predisposed to find guilt. He also was charged in seeming violation of Yale guidelines, which (as Spangler explained at the time) did not apply to cases like Montague’s, where the accuser declined to file a complaint.

Braceras’ op-ed generated a response, from Yale professor David Post, an aquatic ecologist who chairs the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC). Post deemed Braceras’ comments an “affront” to him, noted that many Yale cases end with no punishments, and gushed about “Yale’s multilayer process,” which “allows parties to submit and respond to evidence, engage legal counsel, submit questions for a hearing panel to ask the other party and file an appeal to the university’s highest levels. Each complaint is investigated by an outside fact-finder.”

According to Professor Post, “Yale’s process is honest, fair, transparent and respects privacy.”

First of all, here’s a statement on the Montague lawsuit, offered to the Hartford Courant, by a Yale public relations staffer: “Yale always respects the privacy and confidentiality of all students involved in a disciplinary process. Yale’s procedures for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct are thorough and fair. Allegations are investigated by an impartial fact finder, heard by five trained members of the Yale community, and decided by the accused student’s dean.

Throughout the process, all parties have advisers, which can be legal counsel, and they can appeal a decision.” Previous Yale statements also had stressed the fact that not all accused students are found guilty (citing the same statistics as Post), in following the outlines laid out by Judge Furman’s opinion in the Columbia case. Apparently, no one told Post that the Second Circuit had overruled Furman.
The remarkable similarities between the earlier Yale publicity statement and Post’s letter—which ostensibly contains his own words, and reflects his own thinking, not that of a Yale public relations officer—raises some questions about the professor’s “honest[y].”

As to the other qualities of Yale’s procedures: I’m sure that Montague—like Patrick Witt before him—was surprised to discover Yale’s commitment to respecting “privacy.” Indeed, after Montague left the team, Yale’s Women’s Center released a statement “speculat[ing]” that “it seems that a survivor felt that coming forward was a viable option and that they got the decisive outcome that they likely fought hard for.”

The claim of transparency also intrigues. This assertion was the major difference between Professor Post’s letter and the earlier statement from Yale’s p.r. office (which, wisely, made no mention of the concept). It’s not clear why Professor Post added the claim since Yale’s process is anything but transparent. It’s closed to the public. The university has refused to release the “training” all UWC members receive. And Yale makes no promise to share with the accused students all the evidence the purportedly independent “fact finder” uncovers.

As for the claim of Professor Post—and Yale’s spokesperson—that the university’s process is “fair”: even as last year’s protesters demanded a more “diverse” English fare, it seems that Orwell is alive and well on the New Haven campus.

One thought on “Yale Defends Its Star Chamber Hearings”

  1. It is tempting to say that Ms. Braceras committed a microaggression against Professor Post. However, the matter is too serious to leave it at that. In the Montague case the accuser’s statement is now available publicly, and it confirms that the accuser was told things about Mr. Montague’s disciplinary record that she had no business knowing. Moreover, what she was told was highly misleading.

    With respect to campuses that limit the ability of the accused to cross-examine the complaining witness (as many of them do), I found a passage from Paul Giannelli’s chapter on the Duke lacrosse case (in the book Race to Injustice) enlightening. A judge said words to the effect that DNA evidence was the most significant advance in the criminal justice system since the advent of cross-examination. That is a compliment to DNA evidence, but it also says a great deal about the importance of cross-examination.

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