The University of Virginia has distinguished itself in its ability to pretend that the collapse of Sabrina Erdely’s Rolling Stone article never occurred. President Teresa Sullivan—after rashly suspending not merely the fraternity at which “Jackie” was supposedly assaulted, but all fraternities—refused to lift the ban, or even to acknowledge that the factual basis for her actions had been undermined. With one exception, the faculty either embraced Rolling Stone’s flawed portrayal of the campus, or remained silent. And now a cross-section of student groups have joined the crusade against campus due process.
Last week, a coalition of six student organizations produced a document called “Taking Action on Sexual Assault.” The coalition included an extremist group whose title claims 25 percent of UVA female students will be victims of sexual assault while in Charlottesville. But it also contained the organization representing the UVA Class of 2018, the university’s umbrella fraternity group, and the UVA Student Council.
The students’ recommendations were extraordinary. The most eye-popping came in a call for UVA to use its influence with the General Assembly to change Virginia law, and make all rape trials in the state secret (on grounds that the “painstaking public nature of trials” discourages victims from reporting crimes). The students seemed unaware—or indifferent to—the fact that secret trials are anathema to the U.S. legal tradition, or that open trials afford a critical protection to the wrongly accused.
But the rights of the accused aren’t a concern to the UVA student organizations. The students also urge the school to violate Title IX, and establish a right to counsel for student accusers, but not for the accused. (Even the current OCR has mandated that accused students have the same nominal rights as accusers.) The document refers to the accusers as “survivors,” apparently under the belief that any female student who claims to have been assaulted was, automatically, a victim of a sexual assault. Under this definition, the lacrosse case accuser Crystal Mangum was actually a “survivor.”
The student coalition doesn’t ignore curricular matters. They demand that UVA require all undergraduates to take a course in “women and gender studies.” This approach would, of course, also result in a substantial hiring boost for a field that often struggles to attract substantial enrollments otherwise. UVA’s current women’s and gender studies program has 12 faculty, seven of whom are full-time; adoption of this requirement would ensure a department at least four or five times as large. A comparable curricular proposal was floated by a group of far-left faculty after the lacrosse case—and was seen as a non-starter even at Duke.
A handful of the coalition’s proposals, such as a call for UVA to do more to encourage social events without alcohol, are reasonable ideas—though for a generation, we’ve seen such hopes, and no university has successfully eliminated the alcohol-social life connection without adopting no-alcohol policies such as BYU’s. (The student groups don’t make this recommendation, apparently because their members don’t want to give up their ability to consume alcohol themselves.) As part of a call for a new campus social life, the coalition describes Block Party “as one of the most dangerous nights of the year.” Perhaps it is. But isn’t the student coalition under some obligation to provide crime data for such an assertion?
Maybe not, since it seems that regarding sexual assault and the University of Virginia, facts are optional.