Tuesday’s Brown Daily Herald brings an interesting column on one of Brown University’s best known–and most questionable–disciplinary proceedings: the expulsion of a student, William McCormick, after an allegation of rape by the daughter of a major donor.
I’ve written about McCormick’s case before–in what resembled a coerced plea bargain, he was dismissed from Brown after another Brown student, Marcella Dresdale, accused him of sexually assaulting her. (Dresdale never filed a report with police; McCormick always maintained his innocence and is suing the university.) The affair at the very least has raised the appearance that McCormick left Brown not because he had done anything wrong but because the university bowed to the demands of Dresdale’s father, who has funded both the Dresdale Family Medical Scholarship and a medical conference room.
In a Herald column Tuesday, Michael Burch, who served as judicial affairs adviser to McCormick during the disciplinary proceeding, notes the similarity between Brown’s response to Dresdale’s claim and Penn State’s handling of the Sandusky allegations. If Brown believes Dresdale’s account of rape, he asked, isn’t it guilty of a Penn State-type cover-up of a serious allegation of violent crime?
Burch wrote: “As far as Brown administrators were concerned, they intentionally allowed a suspected violent rapist to roam another university campus unbeknownst to its students. It’s a staggering thought. How does a university defend ousting a student under a rape accusation but refusing to tell the police or another university of the danger such a person might pose? Sounds strangely familiar to the Penn State travesty.”
Of course, Brown’s conduct was “staggering” only if the university’s administration actually believed Dresdale’s charges. If, on the other hand, the goal was to appease a major donor, then the university’s behavior made perfect sense. McCormick was expelled, and it all occurred without any investigation, thereby accommodating another demand of Dresdale’s father.
There’s a second reason why the Dresdale case deserves continued attention. In its campaign against the new, Washington-mandated “preponderance of evidence” standard regarding sexual assault allegations, FIRE has highlighted the remarkable case of former North Dakota student Caleb Warner, who was found guilty by the school’s disciplinary panel of a sexual assault charge that local police had deemed so preposterous that they filed charges against Warner’s accuser.
The Dresdale case, however, reveals another aspect of the unfairness of campus disciplinary procedures: McCormick faced the Brown disciplinary process with Burch, an assistant varsity wrestling coach, as his de facto counsel. Burch has shown considerable courage in highlighting Brown’s indifference to due process, and there’s every reason to believe that he fought as hard as he could for McCormick. But neither a college coach like Burch nor a college professor like me has the legal training to effectively represent a student facing charges for which he can be dismissed if a campus tribunal decides it’s likelier than not he committed a crime. The entire process, then, is skewed from start to finish to obtain a guilty verdict.
Some in the Brown community think that’s a good thing. Tom Bale graduated from Brown in 1963; he describes himself as a social worker. He served as the first president of Brown’s NAACP chapter, but in an article last year, confessed that “whenever I encountered someone with black skin, I realized, even I—an avowed civil rights advocate—experienced a subtle internal flinch, as if I was bracing myself against a threat. I wasn't so different from other prejudiced people after all.”
Bale saw nothing wrong with Brown’s behavior in the Dresdale case—either the summary dismissal of McCormick or Dresdale’s decision not to pursue charges that might have forced her to corroborate her claims. Given the existence of a “male-dominated and biased justice system, a male-dominated and biased police force, and yes, even a male-dominated and biased student body,” Bale contended that university has no choice but to “attempt to level this playing field” and “not to expose the female student to the inequality of the justice system.”
Bale thinks Brown sends this message to all male students accused of sexual assault: The woman's version of what happened will always be accepted over the man's account.” And he thinks that’s a good thing.”
I’d urge Brown to pass along Bale’s letter to the family of every incoming male student, to provide a taste of the Alice-in-Wonderland process that their sons will encounter over the following four years.