Tag Archives: Yale University

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.

What the President of Yale Should Have Said

On November 10, following the campus thousand-member “March for Resilience” over racial insensitivity, Yale president, Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway emailed those of us in the Yale community. affirming “the importance we put on our community’s diversity, and the need to increase it, support it, and respect it.”

The email embraced “the right of every member of this community to engage in protest,” noted that “threats, coercion, and overtly disrespectful acts” are “unacceptable,” and praised the “affirming and effective forms of protest” in Monday’s march. This can best be read as a well-intentioned effort to assure students, faculty, and alumni that the University administration is on top of the problem.

Related: Snowflake Totalitarians at Yale  

But what, exactly, is the problem?  According to the email, the problem is how to “increase, support, and respect” Yale’s “diversity.”  Just before Halloween, Yale’s “intercultural affairs council” emailed students urging them to select their Halloween costumes with sensitivity to the feelings of minorities.  Those with a sense of humor will enjoy this earnest email. In response, Erica Christakis, who is associate “master” of Silliman, one of Yale’s residential colleges, emailed its students.  Combining common sense, respect for students’ maturity and moderation, she urged students to decide for themselves on appropriate costumes and if they found one offensive, either speak about it directly to the offender or ignore it.

This advice, ostensibly, is what unleashed the students’ fury as they vilified, traduced, and sought to intimidate the Christakis’s, Erica and her husband Nicholas, “master’ of Silliman, demanding their resignations. According to a Yale Daily News observer, “This man was surrounded outside his own home by dozens of students, who called him “f—king disgusting.” They jeered, in clearly implied threat, ‘We know where you live.’” Here are some other points that I wish the Salovey-Holloway email had made in the strongest possible terms.

1.  The fact that students complain of rampant racism on campus does not mean that it is true.  Yale — and virtually every other old institution – countenanced racism and even practiced it, but that period is long gone. Indeed, it is hard to think of an institution that tries harder than Yale does to make students of all backgrounds feel at home, an effort underwritten by a recent $50 million commitment to increase diversity there and by the support of four ethno-specific cultural houses. Much the same is true on other elite campuses. Yes, Yale calls its residential college leaders “masters” and, contrary to student protests, this title is entirely benign, not a vestige of slavery, as some seem to think.  (Whether Calhoun College should change its name in light of its eponym’s defense of slavery is a more serious question).  Historical context – how and why earlier generations saw the world as they did — is part of the moral reasoning process that a university teaches.  Condemning what now seems like obvious racism, while entirely appropriate, is the easiest part of such moral reasoning, requiring little insight.

Related: Voices of the Yale-Mizzou Eruptions

2.  The purpose of a great university like ours is not to make students feel comfortable in their views but to unsettle those views with fine teaching and scholarship.  Only then can students learn to confront uncomfortable data and ideas and make up their own minds.  Mature convictions must be earned through a lifetime of grappling with what is discomfiting and engaging in the kind of reading, listening, and arguing that is a privilege and duty of serious citizenship. A great university must defend itself for what it is and should be – a sanctuary for study and engagement – not a comfortable and comforting cocoon.  Students who come with a hypersensitive aversion to conflict and to intellectual diversity (as distinct from the easy, faux diversity of skin color and surname) are in the wrong place

3.  Students state (or shout) many grievances, often in the form of slogans.  Some are plausibly justified, others are gross exaggerations or simply false.  Some seek genuine dialogue; others seek power grabs and shakedowns meant to foreclose conversation.  The university community should demand to know the factual bases for those grievances, examine them on their merits, remedy them if warranted, and reject them if not.  Reflexive mea culpae may buy temporary peace and goodwill but only invite more extreme demands. As Yeats warned, passionate intensity can undermine both truth and civility.

4.  Mob psychology, whether created by students or others, is a kind of crypto-violent form of politics using shouts, threats, and lies as weapons.  Honeyed words and apologies cannot mollify it.  It thrives when it does not get its way, and failure simply confirms its grievances.  The hostility to reason negates the university’s very purpose. Salovey, an eminent psychologist, surely knows all this but has not said it. Among this psychology’s other tics, it fastens on stupid, hurtful comments by fools and bigots (perhaps not even members of the university community, ascribes these views to many others who in fact condemn them, impugns the university for tolerating racism, and excoriates those on the sidelines as equivocating enemies of the cause.  But every community has fools and bigots and must deal with them in its own way. Yale, a community of trained skeptics, eschews authoritarian solutions to questions of truth, relying instead on open, disciplined discourse to discredit error – even as we know that some of this discourse will itself be false.

5.  America’s diversity is one of its greatest gifts to the world, and institutions like Yale are right to seek and protect it. But how we define and implement diversity is crucial to its real value in campuses, workplaces, politics, and elsewhere.  Getting diversity management right is difficult; good intentions can easily backfire. Diversity in America: Keeping Government at a Safe Distance.

Racism, sexism and other odious isms obviously exist, and we should firmly reject them. But combating these isms is especially hard for a university.  They are ill-defined and based on subjective intent, so reasonable people disagree about whether they exist in almost any particular case.  For the same reason, an accused cannot disprove them. Because many attributes are distributed differently among different groups, and because generalizations are useful, indeed inescapable, it is often unclear – even to the Supreme Court — when a judgment is just a useful generalization or instead reflects invidious bigotry and hostility. This ensures lots of false positives and false negatives.  One who feels victimized by an ism resents being told that he is over-reacting and mistaken.  His hurt seems like proof enough of intentional harm.  On the other side, being falsely accused of an ism today is equally or more damaging socially than the hurt or indignity felt by the complainant.

Obsessive Ethnic Emphasis

6.  University officials like us bear some responsibility for the aggressive, obsessive ethnic emphasis practiced on our campus.  Through some mixture of cowardice, complaisance, and genuine conviction, we cater to the sensibilities of the most outspoken, politicized students by donning a kind of “kick me” sign. In this identity politics, students have strong incentives to dramatize their wounds as proof of the authenticity of a larger, more heroic social agenda — here, the extirpation of isms.

7.  The only way out of this gyre of recrimination and misunderstanding is to cultivate two qualities that are sorely lacking in diversity discourse on campus: candor and thicker skins.  On campus, candor should be the easiest virtue, but in fact there is remarkably little of it.  Few are willing to concede the deep tensions among diversity, liberty, and equality – and thus the costs to precious values of one position or another.  By thicker skins, I mean that we should cultivate a capacity for greater resilience, not greater delicacy.  As one commentator put it, the U.S. today has become “a world of endless slights.”  (Even that comment will elicit anger for suggesting that putative isms are merely slights).  This is corrosive in a society as diverse, interactive, plainspoken, casual, and freewheeling as ours.  It chills personal interactions by denying them the lubricating pleasure of spontaneity.

It discourages candid discussion or artistic expression on vital public issues. It enlists formal and informal sanctions in order to reduce what should be robust give-and-take. It invites us to open our wounds, magnify our fears, and parade our sensitivities, to imagine injuries and motivations that do not exist and to view others, without basis, as enemies.  It rewards cant, hyperbole, and reductive rhetoric while penalizing moderation and reason.  It encourages us to seek security in groups of people who look, think, or worship like us rather than to venture out in the more diverse public square where our common citizenship is forged.  It makes a mockery of rules that are brandished to penalize what is often just ignorance, boorishness, interpretive confusion, ill-considered speech, clumsy provocation, misjudgment, rough or poor humor and other unfortunate infelicities.

8. We do better to respond to such conduct with constructive engagement, forceful rebuke, pointed rebuttal, and mental shrugging of shoulders and biting of tongues.  It is unfair that the people who need the thickest skins are often those who already feel under siege. Two factors, however, can help palliate this unfairness, if not assuage their hurt and indignation.  The informal social norms condemning hateful attitudes and conduct are stronger today than ever before.  And the alternatives to developing thicker skins are all unappealing, unconstitutional, or unworkable.

9. Our administration pledges to be wiser in the future, though no less committed to lux et veritas. Let our students pledge to do the same.”