In the latest expansion of the intent of Title IX, a University of Kentucky Professor drew punishment this month, partly, he says, because he was found to have engaged in “sexual misconduct” by singing a Beach Boys song at a university gathering in China last year. The professor, Buck Ryan, who directs the University’s Scripps Howard First Amendment Center, claimed in an op-ed published in the Lexington Herald Leader that “under Administrative Regulation 6:1, Discrimination and Harassment, University of Kentucky’s Title IX coordinator ruled that the song, “California Girls,” with names of Chinese universities and cities inserted for the event, included ‘language of a sexual nature’ and was offensive.”
Although there were no student complaints—essentially no victims—the professor who has three decades of college teaching experience, was refused due process—as is the case for most accused males in Title IX cases—and has been stripped of a prestigious award worth thousands of dollars.
A heavily redacted letter, released by the university, says that no charge of having sexual relations is involved in the case against Ryan, but leaves the impression that Ryan did something major. On December 20, an op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal by University PR man Jay Blanton said the Beach Boys song was not the key factor in the case and that Ryan had engaged in “inappropriate touching” and “language of a sexual nature.” Still, no formal hearing, no clearly stated charges and no on-the-record complaining witnesses, but a heavy financial loss and damage to Ryan’s reputation.
In comments to the university senate Monday, Ryan said, “UK has weaponized its Title IX office and made the legal office its enforcer. It’s time the faculty stands up to the bully.” Ryan added that the Chinese students at the event, none of whom were contacted by the university, “found the charges against me mortifying and wanted to defend me. They were looking to clear their names, too.”
Since its passage in 1972, Title IX has been expanded from its original intent to end discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding, to include regulations promulgated in the name of preventing a hostile environment for women—broadly defined as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” Today, any unwelcome comment to a female student from a male student, faculty or staff member is grounds for a Title IX investigation—with Title IX coordinators empowered to act as police, judge and jury in allegations of sexual harassment ranging from offensive speech to claims of rape.
Harvard canceled the men’s soccer team season because team members sent emails to each other rating women on their physical attractiveness. Columbia University followed suit by canceling the wrestling season after “misogynistic and homophobic” text messages were found to have been sent by members of the team.
This was never the intent of Title IX. While Presidents Reagan and Bush enforced the original intent of Title IX, the overreach of the law began in 1996 with an ominous “Dear Colleague” letter sent from President Clinton’s Education Secretary to all college and university administrators. Warning that colleges that did not ‘equalize the participation’ of males and females in athletics, would lose federal funding, the Clinton administration mandated that if the schools could not produce enough female athletes, they would have to cut male athletes—and male athletic programs—until the participation rates of both sexes were exactly the same.
That was just the beginning. While the George W. Bush administration did not expand Title IX, it did nothing to curb the abuses. And, once the Obama administration took power, the Title IX industry that had been created was so confident in its ability to manipulate gender politics on campuses throughout the country, that a whole new set of “Dear Colleague” letters began to arrive on campus in 2011. Enlisting the U. S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to handle all complaints in very specific ways, the “Dear Colleague” letters required colleges to be responsible for harassment and assault that occurs off-campus as well as on-campus.
The Obama administration also allowed a lower standard of evidence to “prove” the guilt of the accused. A “preponderance of evidence” standard replaced a “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. And, as in the University of Kentucky case, there are no protections for the academic freedom of professors and the free expression of any male student, professor or staff member on or off campus. There is no right to due process no right to an attorney for the accused—and sometimes, no appeal process allowed.
President Obama’s overreach has caused an explosion of cases. Even Brett Sokolow, who in 2014 as director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, acknowledged in a newsletter to members that in their efforts to enforce Title IX, “they are running afoul of Title IX.” Claiming that colleges are getting it “completely wrong,” Sokolow advised campuses that “every drunken sexual hook up is not a punishable offense.”
Sokolow knows that colleges and universities have implemented Title IX so poorly that the Office of Civil Rights is currently investigating more than 200 institutions following complaints that the colleges and universities have mishandled sexual misconduct cases. In just the past few months, lawsuits were filed by students claiming “unfair treatment” at Albany Medical College, the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, Shenandoah University, the University Cincinnati and the University of Maryland.
This follows high-profile lawsuits at Occidental College, Columbia University and the University of Tennessee. Several of these lawsuits have been successful in vindicating the male student, and actually holding college administrators accountable. Earlier this year, an Ohio federal judge allowed an Ohio State University student’s due process claims to survive a motion to dismiss, holding that the campus Title IX training at the Ohio State University may have “biased Title IX panel members,” allowing the plaintiff to proceed against OSU’s Title IX Coordinator.
In October, the Office for Civil Rights found that Wesley College in Delaware violated the Title IX rights of a male student who was accused of sexual assault—citing unfair treatment. And, a federal appeals court revived a lawsuit by a Columbia University male student who alleged that the university had subjected him to sex discrimination during its investigation of a sexual assault report against him.
For the unjustly accused, the ability to bring these lawsuits are themselves a victory because they reveal that colleges and universities have not been complying with their own procedures. In most cases, accused students are not given due process – they are denied a chance to respond to allegations, they are not informed of their options for resolving the complaints, they are not given copies of the incident report or other evidence against them before the hearing, they are not allowed to call witnesses on their behalf, and they are often denied legal representation.
Last year in a case at the University of California, San Diego, Superior Court Judge Joel M. Pressman found that the accused student was impermissibly prevented from fully confronting and cross-examining his accuser and that there was insufficient evident to back the university’s findings that the male student had forced the accuser into sexual activity without her consent. Ordering UC San Diego to drop its finding against the male student, the judge quipped that “When I finished reading all the briefs in this case, my comment was Where’s the kangaroo?”
These campus tribunals are indeed kangaroo courts. A forthcoming book (January 24) The Campus Rape Frenzy, by K C Johnson and Stuart Taylor, draws upon data from two dozen of the hundreds of cases since 2010 in which innocent students have been branded as sex criminals and expelled or otherwise punished by their colleges. It shows why all of us are harmed when universities abandon the pursuit of the truth—and “accommodate the passions of the mob.”
For those of us who are concerned about free speech and equal protection for all students, the selection of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos is encouraging. But, Secretary DeVos will be battling an entrenched anti-male campus culture and the Chronicle of Higher Education has already published a warning that: “Trump Administration May Back Away from Title IX, but Campuses Won’t.”
Taking on the sexual assault industry that has been built up on the backs of innocent male students will be difficult, but President-elect Trump—no stranger to false allegations himself—has already shown a willingness to speak for those who have been silenced.