A Lack of Skepticism on the Higher-Ed Beat

Inside Higher Ed reporter Allie Grasgreen has a piece today lionizing the
students who’ve filed Title IX complaints to minimize the already weak due
process protections for students accused of sexual assault on campus. (Richard PérezPeña covered this exact same topic and in some
instances the exact same people, albeit in an even more fawning fashion, a few weeks ago.) I’ve previously noted Grasgreen’s tendency to produce articles that read as if they’re a press release from the OCR rather than a work of independent journalism, and this item is little different.

You can read the article here. But two points of tone and substance. On substance,here’s how Grasgreen describes the path of Andrea Pino, a UNC student who filed a Title IX complaint against the school. (Pino claims that UNC’s procedures, which among other things prevented accused students from being represented by counsel and from presenting evidence that might “otherwise infringe the rights of other students,” unfairly treat accusers.)After being raped at an off-campus party in March 2012, Pino felt let down by the people and policies that were supposed to protect her (an academic adviser told her she was lazy when her experience impacted her performance in the classroom; other students told her reporting the rape wouldn’t do any good; her resident assistant wasn’t supportive). At first, she didn’t think she had any recourse.”

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Pino’s resident advisor wasn’t “supportive.” But in a politically correct environment such as UNC’s, it’s all but inconceivable that an academic advisor, told by a student that she had been raped, would then turn around and call the student “lazy.” Grasgreen gives no indication of having interviewed either the resident advisor or the academic advisor to confirm Pino’s story; apparently, she saw her job as simply accepting Pino’s portrayal of events. Similarly, Grasgreen bypasses the question of why Pino seemed focused on reporting the alleged crime to university officials rather than to the police. Wouldn’t reporting the attack–and trying to get a rapist off the streets–be the first step of someone seeking “recourse”? Once again, the article simply accepts (without, it seems, any attempt at verification) Pino’s version of events.

On a matter of tone: a bit later in the piece, Grasgreen mentions that the OCR’s efforts have attracted criticism, most recently as a result of the University of Montana “blueprint.” Her article describes FIRE as having “waged war on the Montana settlement.” I didn’t realize that press releases, interviews, and op-eds constitute waging “war.”

She adds that FIRE has “said OCR’s stance threatens the due process rights of alleged perpetrators.” It’s true that FIRE is always concerned with due process, and that due process rights were central to FIRE’s response to the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter. But FIRE’s central criticism of the Montana blueprint has been that it imposes a national speech code, and in such a broad fashion that it essentially makes everyone on campus an “alleged perpetrator.” The article downplays the speech code concerns by noting that OCR
“responded in a letter” (actually, it appears
, in an e-mail) “in late May, arguing that its rules ‘do not require or prescribe speech, conduct or harassment codes that impair the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment.'” Generally, e-mails to concerned citizens carry less weight that a formal legal settlement promulgated by both OCR and the Department of Justice.

I realize a higher-ed reporter must stay on good terms with sources, and in the contemporary academy, on matters relating to sexual assault procedures, those sources tilt very heavily in one direction. But surely it’s worth giving the appearance, at least, of objectivity in coverage.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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