In a 2012 resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, Yale became the nation’s only university required to document all sexual assault allegations on campus. The reports, prepared by Yale deputy provost Stephanie Spangler, are generally bare-bones (and became even more so last year after Spangler announced she’d decided to supply less information about some unresolved complaints) but nonetheless provide a peak into the deeply unhealthy atmosphere—at least at elite campuses—regarding the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault complaints. The most recent of the Spangler Reports, which covers events in the last six months of 2016, has now appeared.
Minding the Campus has covered each of the previous Spangler reports, which have included such items as:
As always, Spangler notes that the university “uses a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than does either Connecticut state law or the federal government (through Clery Act requirements). The university has never offered an explanation as to why it does so. The current report, which discusses allegations filed between July and December 2016, adds a vague assertion that it “assigns complaints to general categories such as ‘sexual assault’ . . . that encompass broad ranges of behavior”—but, again, why sexual assault should “encompass broad ranges of behavior” beyond the common legal or cultural understanding of the term remains a mystery.
Fueling the Panic
The Spangler reports always have had the feel of existing to feed the frenzy (while appeasing OCR and justifying Yale’s sprawling Title IX bureaucracy) more than providing accurate information, but the current report seems to go overboard on this matter. It portrays a campus in the midst of a terrifying wave of violent crime—or, more likely, in the midst of a moral panic.
There were 81 reports of some type of sexual harassment at Yale in the last six months of 2016. Spangler seems almost giddy at the news, since “we have noted a sustained increase in the number of complaints brought to the university’s attention in the three reporting periods following” the AAU survey from 2015 (which, using deeply flawed methodology, suggested the nation’s preeminent campuses were hotbeds of felonies).
Spangler never pauses to consider whether this surge of reporting might be fueled by a panicked campus atmosphere to which she, and the Yale administration, have contributed. Instead, she believes that her previous reports—which indicated that a typical female undergraduate at Yale had a greater chance of being a victim of violent crime than a resident of Detroit, which FBI statistics have identified as the nation’s most dangerous city—have shown an insufficiently low number of campus crime victims. The university, she declares, therefore needs to “identify and address barriers to reporting” of sexual assault at Yale. What those barriers could be, given the frenzied atmosphere on campus in recent years, Spangler does not reveal.
Responding to the Yale Crime Wave
Spangler promised only two specific steps to take to meet this campus crime wave. The first is almost comical. “We are,” Spangler writes, “working to shed more light on Yale’s procedures through the creation of additional ‘hypothetical case scenarios’ that address a broad range of behaviors and are tailored to local campus communities.” The existing version of these scenarios was (deservedly) mocked by Cathy Young; and, in any case, they don’t shed light on its procedures—as Yale demonstrated when it didn’t follow them in the Jack Montague case, a point raised in his lawsuit against the university.
The second, however, raises grave academic freedom concerns. Interns in the Title IX Office, Spangler explains, have developed a program to address “patterns of academic and social life particular to the graduate and professional schools.” This program “has been offered in numerous departments.” Yet “academic” issues at the level of academic “departments” are supposed to be the purview of the faculty—not student interns responsible to a Title IX bureaucrat. Yet not only has this initiative not aroused any academic freedom concerns, according to Spangler “demand is high” for future workshops. Faculty, instead, appear to have bowed to the inevitable, as this jargon-laden sentence implies: “Schools and departments across the campus continue to introduce initiatives aimed at identifying and impacting factors that influence local culture.”
Despite the top-line assertion of 81 complaints of sexual harassment, Yale’s disciplinary tribunal, the UWC, handled only one case of sexual assault involving undergraduate students during this six-month period. (The student, unsurprisingly given the guilt-presuming procedures, was found guilty.) One case remains pending, and another withdrew instead of bothering going through the UWC.
The current Spangler report departs from its predecessors in five interesting ways. First: several faculty members faced serious allegations, and therefore got a taste of the procedures to which their students have been subjected for years. One was found not guilty of sexual assault, but guilty of violating the school’s policy regarding teacher-student relations. A second is still facing the same charge, with two others currently under investigation on this policy. A fifth was found guilty of sexual harassment—in a case initiated not by any students, but by a Title IX “coordinator.” The professor was suspended for a semester, and prohibited from having any leadership positions or advising any students for five years. And the Title IX office is investigating two other professors for making “inappropriate comments.”
Second: the report features several cases in which students filed complaints not to have another student expelled, but solely to receive an academic accommodation (such as a delay on an exam or paper) from the Title IX office. And some of the allegations were remarkably broad. In two instances, for example, the student complained that another student “paid unwanted attention” to her. By that definition of sexual harassment, any student asking another out for a date would be risking a sexual harassment complaint. The ability of students to game the system by filing complaints to get accommodations is present in all Title IX matters, especially at elite schools.
Third: there appear to have been two cases in which a male filed a complaint against a female. It’s not clear whether there were sexual assault or harassment cases. It’s not clear whether they involved undergraduate or graduate students, or what their disposition was. But it is a trend worth watching.
Fourth: in the last few Spangler reports, a disturbing pattern emerged of Title IX coordinators—rather than accusers—filing sexual assault complaints against Yale undergraduate students. These moves came despite severe restrictions in the Yale guidelines regarding the filing of these complaints. One of the victims of this process was Jack Montague—and after his lawsuit brought attention to the matter, the restrictions vanished. But so too, at least for this reporting period, did the filing of charges against male undergraduate students by the Title IX office. Did the administration instruct the office to lay low on the matter until the Montague suit is resolved?
Fifth: seven sexual assault allegations by undergraduate students received no description from Spangler at all—yet they counted toward her top-line total of 81 cases, helping to fuel the campus panic. Previous Spangler reports would describe this kind of case, which often involved a claim by a student that a second student (whose identity she didn’t know) was sexually assaulted by a third student (whose identity she also didn’t know). Providing this type of information, of course, demonstrated the absurdity of the allegation. So, beginning with her last report, Spangler dropped it.
She wouldn’t want to provide inconvenient facts that might undermine the narrative.