At Swarthmore, “A Very Low Bar” to Deem Students a Rapist

Parents considering sending the child to Swarthmore College no longer can claim they weren’t warned.

The Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer had a lengthy and quite well-done article examining the increasing lawsuits filed by students accused of sexual assault who were victimized by a lack of due process in campus disciplinary proceedings. Most of the cases the article covers (Swartmore, Xavier, St. Joe’s—whose case despite the article’s suggestion still remains alive in federal court) will be familiar to Minding the Campus readers. But reporters Jeremy Roebuck and Susan Snyder obtained a remarkable quote from retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Jane Greenspan, who Swarthmore hired to preside over its sexual assault disciplinary system.


Greenspan wouldn’t tell the Inquirer whether she thought it was appropriate that students be branded rapists based on the preponderance of evidence threshold, but both she and Swarthmore made clear that she would use the standard. But she described it as “a very low bar.” Somehow I doubt Swarthmore will be including this (correct) admission in any of its promotional material.

The Inquirer piece also examined a case I haven’t covered, at Philadelphia University. There, an accused student named Anthony Villar declined to participate in the process, in part because his attorney was excluded. Huffed attorneys for the school, “Villar’s lawsuit suggests that during an internal administrative disciplinary process, he was entitled to the rights of a criminal defendant.”

Consider the impact of the school’s action. Having been deemed a rapist, many schools won’t (understand) accept Villar as a transfer student. Many professions (any, basically, that require a background check) will be foreclosed to him. And, per guidelines of the White House Task Force, if Villar had participated in the process, material the school gathered (if favorable to the accuser) could be shared with law enforcement. But to the school, there’s no problem with keeping his attorney out of the process.

Finally, another follow-up from the Finger Lakes Times, raising more questions about the New York Times exposé of Hobart and Smith. We’ve already learned that (a) while a key witness didn’t testify on behalf of “Anna,” the Times didn’t interview the witness to find out why; (b) for reasons unexplained, the Times appeared not to have tried to interview the accused students its article described as liars; and (c) contrary to the insinuation in the Times article, Anna’s attorney didn’t share key evidence with the police, citing a desire for civil litigation.

The Finger Lakes Times piece features a strong condemnation of the Times article from the local DA, Michael Tantillo, and an unequivocal assertion that there was insufficient evidence to file charges. Of course, it could be argued, he’s now simply covering himself. But the article contains a significant point of context that the Times didn’t mention.

The Times stressed that the students who allegedly attacked “Anna” were football players. The insinuation: Anna was victimized because her rapists played football. But, it turns out, just a few years ago, Tantillo’s office successfully prosecuted, for rape, a former HWS football player. So there’s little reason to accept a perception of a school and town eager to protect football players. Why didn’t the Times tell its readers?


  • 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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2 thoughts on “At Swarthmore, “A Very Low Bar” to Deem Students a Rapist

  1. Kind of similar to the media characterization of Willie Meggs as “hesitant to charge football players” in the Jameis Winston case…ignoring the fact the he had charged a Florida St. receiver 3 months prior

  2. Mr Johnson,

    First off LOVE your work. I had this, a false accusation, in the mid-90s.

    I followed your work during the Duke case – and bought your book about Duke (Until Proven Innocent).

    One thing I point out whenever I see the “new” (that applied to me as well in the 90’s) rules of not allowing an attorney to represent you is this:

    It is DELIBERATE that they do not allow you an attorney, but demand you answer questions. These are true believers. They believe that, if accused, you’re likely guilty, and that your rights stop at the door of their zeal.

    It is DELIBERATE : they deny you an attorney, force you answer questions, and those answers can and WILL be used if this goes to trial.

    This same thing was done to me – and this was 20 years ago. I was lucky because the local ADA, Karen Welles (mentioning her because if she ever googles and sees this I want to give her credit and thanks) took one look at the “case” against me and took my side.

    The universties have made this “no attorney” restriction in a deliberate attempt to ‘help the cause’ and it’s telling that no faculty nor admin staff at these colleges wants this to be expanded for the when THEY are brought before a hearing board.


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