Swarthmore Dismisses Civil Liberties

Swarthmore received considerable media attention this past spring, after several students filed a complaint against the school, alleging that Swarthmore’s sexual assault policy was so faulty that it discriminated against women in violation of Title IX. Neither the complaint nor most media coverage mentioned the specifics of the policy, which in fact was extraordinarily one-sided in favor of accusers, in that it forbade accused students from even mentioning the charges against them to an attorney, and once the proceedings began, forbade an accused student from cross-examining his accuser–the only witness so protected under college standards.

Based on two recent stories first publicized by the Swarthmore Independent, it seems that the college is even further determined to set aside (some of its) students’ civil liberties in the name of political correctness. The first involves a change in the way students are assigned to the (already biased) sexual assault panels. Following the lead of a handful of other institutions (Stanford, Vassar, UNC), Swarthmore now is providing specific training to students who serve on sexual assault panels (and, it appears, only to these students–not to student judicial panel members who consider other issues). The training includes “the dynamics of sexual harassment, … the factors relevant to a determination of credibility, … evaluation of consent and incapacitation, the application of the preponderance of the evidence standard … , sanctioning, and the College’s policies and procedures.”

Very, very little is known about the precise nature of these “training” sessions, in large part because colleges do not publicize the material. To the best of my knowledge, the only training documents that reached the public eye were Stanford’s, thanks to FIRE’s efforts. Stanford’s training advice–that an accused student presenting his argument in a persuasive and logical manner could in and of itself be interpreted as a sign of guilt–gives considerable pause about what these new Swarthmore adjudicators will be told in their training sessions.

Then, the college cracked down on a fraternity that sent out bid invitations that “featured a collage of half-naked women copied from the Internet.” (That is: no students at Swarthmore.) Swarthmore administrators decried the flier as a violation of the college’s community values, and announced that fraternity members would be required to participate in a Title IX training session, all as part of a “remedies-based resolution” and a “non judicial approach.”

Perhaps, it might be said, Swarthmore’s “community values” are neo-Victorian, or are associated with the religious right (note the community standards at such institutions as BYU or Liberty). But, as the Independent noted, this isn’t at all the case: instead, Swarthmore is a college that annually hosts such politically correct–but hardly neo-Victorian–events as “Genderf**k, masturbatory theater, the Vagina Monologues, and Crunkfest.”

At Swarthmore, then, objectionable, even raunchy, speech is fully consistent with the school’s community values as long as the message of that speech conforms to the ideological predispositions of the college administration. Yet another reason to distrust the new sexual assault training instituted by the very same administration.


  • 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.

One thought on “Swarthmore Dismisses Civil Liberties”

  1. Add UMass Amherst to the list of IHEs that are engaging in these questionable practices == although at “Planet UMass”, merely attempting to argue in a persuasive manner is viewed as evidence of not only mental illness but that one is a threat to the community. I only wish I was making this up — they are that twisted….

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