Tag Archives: sexual assault at Yale

Panic Over Sex Assault ‘Crime Wave’ Overtakes Yale

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.

New Developments

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.

More on the Sex Panic at Yale

The bizarre procedures of Yale’s sprawling sexual assault bureaucracy may well be the worst in the nation. We have come to realize this because Yale is the only university to publicly document all campus allegations of sexual assault, the result of a 2012 agreement with the Obama administration. Reports issued by Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler don’t provide much detail, but with each new report, we see more clearly a campus environment characterized more by witch hunts than a pursuit of justice.

Consider this item: “An administrator informed a Title IX Coordinator that a Yale College student reported that another YC student made unwanted advances.” On the basis of this third-hand allegation, a current Yale student is being investigated.

The most recent Spangler Report, just published, says 20 Yale undergraduates were accused of sexual assault in the first six months of 2016. Twenty-six undergraduates filed sexual assault complaints. Assuming all were female (the source of around 99 percent of campus complaints), it would mean an annual violent crime rate for Yale undergraduate women of 1.9 percent, without taking into account any attempted murder or felony assault claims. That would be just under the annual violent crime rate for the city FBI stats deem the most dangerous in the country, Detroit.

Yet Spangler, it seems, believes her campus is actually far more dangerous for undergraduate females than Detroit. “We know,” she writes, “from both national statistics and our own participation in the 2015 AAU Sexual Climate Survey that this number represents only a fraction of the instances of sexual misconduct at Yale.” Actually, we “know” no such thing—as my colleague Stuart Taylor has pointed out, the AAU survey appears to have dramatically oversampled female students who reported a sexual assault to their school.

Here are some revelations from previous Spangler reports:

  • There is an increasing pattern of Yale’s Title IX office filings complaints on their own, without a formal complaint by the alleged victim, and odd investigations based on anonymous complaints—and sometimes with anonymous targets
  • The “resolution” of a complaint against a professor was reported, with a chair to “monitor” him, even though the professor has never officially been informed of the complaint
  • A student was punished though even Yale’s due process-unfriendly system had found not culpable for the allegations against him
  • Students have been charged under a vague standard that included “emotional or economic abuse” by “roommates”
  • Yale has redefined “sexual assault,” attributing to the term “broad ranges of behavior” that neither the criminal law nor common cultural understanding would define as sexual assault. As a result, no one can really be certain about what constitutes “sexual assault” at Yale.

Limiting Information

The Spangler reports always have seemed designed more to stimulate a sense of panic on campus than to actually convey information. The reports have tended to provide minimal amounts of information—ostensibly for privacy reasons, though Yale could easily provide more detail than it does and still ensure anonymity.

The only time Yale provided more information came in response to criticism from the accusers’ rights movement and its media allies. A 2013 biannual report had revealed that while several students had been found guilty of “sexual assault,” Yale hadn’t expelled any of them. Showing the university’s extraordinary sensitivity to criticism for not being tough enough on campus rape (just the type of sensitivity that attracted the notice of the Second Circuit, when it reinstated a Title IX lawsuit filed by an accused student at Columbia), Yale rushed out with a clarifying statement, as well as a document describing a host of conduct that it considered sexual assault but virtually no one else would. The implication—the students found guilty of “sexual assault” really had committed no such offense.

But while Yale is worried about not looking tough enough on sexual assault, it doesn’t seem to worry about not providing information that might cast doubt on the suggestions that the university is experiencing an unprecedented crime wave. Beginning this August, Spangler has revised her report to exclude details for cases that don’t move into the investigation phase. Instead, the report provides only statistical tables with the filings, so Yale can still list these incidents as campus sexual assault claims, thereby heightening the sense of panic. Spangler argues that Yale has taken this course because “those categories contain complaints in which no further action was taken,” and therefore “the descriptions provide little, if any, additional information.”

But this isn’t so. In fact, the descriptions of these cases were quite revealing. The now-suppressed data showed that these allegations often involved second-hand claims, in which a third party reported that a student whose identity he or she didn’t know was allegedly sexually assaulted another student whose identity the reporter didn’t know. That type of information demonstrated a seemingly panicked student body—and the absurdities of the university’s excessively broad definition of sexual assault. No wonder Spangler removed it.

The Numbers Lie

For Spangler and Yale, if the choice is between its own data (which is itself inflated because of how the university defines “sexual assault”) and dubious stats that reinforce campus beliefs, dubious stats will prevail. And so, Spangler reveals, a campus already frantic in its response to sexual assault has undertaken or will undertake “not only dozens of school and department based town hall meetings, but also workshops, curricular re-examination and design, the creation of local climate committees, the training of peer liaisons, and the expansion of bystander intervention programming to include features relevant to the graduate and professional student experience.”

The Incidents

Despite the high number in Spangler’s executive summary (26 female undergraduates filing sexual assault allegations in the first six months of 2016), only four of those cases made it to the UWC, Yale’s adjudication panel. And of those four, two accusers “withdrew” their allegations, for unspecified reasons. A third case remains pending. The fourth student was tried and unsurprisingly found guilty.

In contrast to recent patterns, the accuser—rather than a Yale Title IX officer—filed all four of these complaints. Though the previous version of the Spangler Report have claimed that the Title IX coordinator will take independent action “only in extremely rare cases, where there is a serious risk to the safety of individuals or the community, will the University take independent action,” that clause does not appear in the most recent Spangler report. Spangler provides no explanation for the revision.

A cynical person might assume that the excision was caused by Jack Montague’s lawsuit, since the complaint against the former Yale basketball captain was filed not by his accuser but by a Title IX officer, even though under no conceivable interpretation of the facts associated with his case did Montague pose a “serious risk to the safety of individuals or the community.” Montague’s expulsion is mentioned in the current report (as an update to cases first referenced in the fall 2015 report, which had contained the “extremely rare” language); though he isn’t identified, the filing of the complaint by the Title IX officer, and his expulsion, are the giveaways.

Consider this item, which seemingly illustrates a chilled classroom environment: “A faculty member reported that a YC student made inappropriate comments in a classroom. A Title IX Coordinator investigated and determined that the conduct did not constitute sexual misconduct and referred the matter to other campus officials for further action.” Since the student—who was nonetheless subjected to an investigation for doing nothing wrong—wasn’t even charged, why was he referred to “other campus officials for further action”? What was this “further action”? Spangler doesn’t say.

Finally, the report has two separate instances in which graduate students made allegations of “improper comments” against two professors. But both times, the students didn’t file charges. It didn’t matter: even though without the charges there was no investigation to determine the truth, in both instances, Spangler reports that the Title IX officer and relevant department chair “will monitor the [professor’s] interactions with students.”

Another reminder that the Yale faculty’s decision to remain largely silent about the assault on their students’ rights will ultimately threaten their own rights as well.