Tag Archives: assault

A Rape Accusation At Brown

Brown University is being sued by a former student, William McCormick III, over its handling of a charge of rape on campus. Because of McCormick’s allegations, the case is bound to attract major publicity. In court papers, he argues that the female student was reluctant to name him, and that Brown officials yelled at her, pressing her to escalate her initial complaint (that he was following her) into a rape complaint, written by her with the help of her resident coordinator. The court papers also argue that the father of the alleged victim, a Brown alumnus and donor, made phone calls to top university officials, which led to a private settlement: if he withdrew from Brown, she would not file criminal charges.

Neither the accuser nor the university reported the alleged crime to Providence police or campus police. McCormick, who later rejected the deal with the university, says Brown failed to follow its own disciplinary policies. The lawsuit claims that Brown interfered with his access to potential witnesses and refused to provide documents that might exonerate him.

Colleges are often reluctant to hold due-process hearings on sexual complaints, partly because vigorous cross examination opens them to charges of abusing the victim.

Feminist theory holds that there is no need to hear from the accused, because rape victims do not lie and because confrontation with the accused or his lawyer or even any close analysis of what happened can amount to a “second rape.” As a result, on some campuses, the “he-said she-said” in cases of alleged rape tends to be reduced to a simple “she said.”

The Columbia University sexual misconduct policy does not allow the accused to confront his accuser, have a lawyer present, or even to sit silently at the hearing, unless the accuser agrees. Nor can the accused line up witnesses or investigate the charges himself. Nat Hentoff called it the most repressive sexual misconduct policy he had ever seen.

Duke University recently introduced a bizarre misconduct policy. Under it, a great many males who could have sworn they were having consensual sex were actually committing rape in the eyes of their university. The policy contains a broad definition of coercion, and warns that “real or perceived power differentials…may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion.” So a sexually active varsity athlete at Duke might be accused of rape because his status as a campus star is inherently coercive to women he dates.

Columnist Cathy Young, writing about the new Duke policy, recalled an example of a counselor advising a student to consider an apparently harmless act of intercourse as rape:

“About 15 years ago, as an undergraduate, a friend of mine was talked into a one-night stand in a situation some would call coercive: the man was a graduate student, and she felt somewhat intimidated by his intellectual brilliance. She went to a campus counselor hoping for advice on developing her assertiveness skills—only to be told that she had been assaulted and should not blame herself. My friend was frustrated and angry: in her view, the counselor was not only being unhelpful but telling her how to interpret her own experience. Imagine how much more betrayed she would have felt if the counselor had been compelled to initiate proceedings on her behalf.”

Duke’s Mixed News

In the past few days, Duke announced resolutions of two disputes that had bedeviled the university. First, in response to a protest from FIRE, the university overruled the Women’s Center’s refusal to host an exhibition sponsored by a Duke pro-life organization. In a perfect irony, announcement of the reversal came from Women’s Center Director Ada Gregory, last heard from hypothesizing about the danger that Duke’s female students face because they go to school with smart male students: “The higher IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are . . . imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke—cream of the crop.”
Then, Duke settled a lawsuit filed by former lacrosse coach Mike Pressler. Pressler was an early victim of Duke’s Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the lacrosse case—he was fired, and only then did the university conduct an investigation of his conduct. (That investigation concluded he had done nothing wrong, and had responded appropriately every time an administrator raised the issue with him of behavior by his players.) Even then, Pressler sued only when—days before AG Roy Cooper declared the falsely accused players innocent—he was attacked, in print, by Duke’s then-director of public relations.
Duke tried to have Pressler’s lawsuit thrown out on technical grounds, but lost that argument—meaning that depositions would have to go forward, and then the case would go to trial. Perhaps the University would have won at trial, perhaps not. But regardless of the verdict, subjecting key Duke administrators to cross-examination under oath would have risked a public relations nightmare for Duke.
The settlement of the Pressler lawsuit doubtless previews how the University might handle the far more serious lawsuit that Duke faces—the civil motion filed by 38 members of the 2006 men’s lacrosse team, along with several of their parents.
As in the Pressler lawsuit, Duke has aggressively sought to have the suit dismissed before the discovery phase, employing some creative legal arguments in the process. My favorites: (1) the assertion that the university doesn’t consider itself legally bound by the terms of the Student Handbook, which among other things precludes discrimination; and (2) these “anti-harassment policies must be balanced against principles of academic freedom” (or when race/class/gender professors choose to go after their own students to advance their pedagogical agenda, such actions should fall under the definition of “academic freedom”).
Neither claim, I should note, appear in Duke’s promotional materials or on its admissions department webpage. Apparently Duke isn’t eager to inform prospective parents that the University’s promises that faculty will treat students with respect aren’t worth the scrap of paper on which they’re printed.
Duke’s motion for summary judgment remains pending. If the University loses, it will face a highly unappealing choice—settle before trial; or allow many of its key administrators from 2006 not only to be deposed, but to hand over internal administration e-mails from spring 2006. The public relations damage from such a move would be horrifying for any institution, much less one eager to remain among the nation’s elite.
By the way, I noted there was mixed news for Duke: on the “good news” front, benefiting from a quite easy draw, the men’s basketball team reached the Final Four.