UVA Student Coalition Demands Secret Trials in Virginia

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.


  • 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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5 thoughts on “UVA Student Coalition Demands Secret Trials in Virginia

  1. It’s my hope that some/many/most/all of the faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law will promptly object to the “Taking Action on Sexual Assault” report in the same manner that 28 members of the Harvard Law School Faculty have issued a formal statement voicing their strong objections to the “Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures” imposed at Harvard.

    Source: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/10/14/rethink-harvard-sexual-harassment-policy/HFDDiZN7nU2UwuUuWMnqbM/story.html

  2. I was wondering when someone would call for the end of due process in criminal trials for rape, and now Thomas Jefferson’s institution is leading the way. This really is the beginning of the end to America’s experiment in individual rights. We now have the University of Virginia demanding that there no longer be individual rights for those charged with committing certain crimes.

    What this means is that UVA now is wanting rape charges to be political charges, which would mean that convicted rapists by definition would be political prisoners. My, we have gone a long way, have we not?

  3. Terrifying. You never know where vital rights such as due process will begin to be eroded, but for it to happen at a university is doubly sad since our educational system represents the future. And why in the world have the fraternities joined this absurd movement? Do they really think they can earn the good graces of the 1-in-4 crowd?

  4. I am no lawyer, but if the accuser has access to legal counsel but not the accused, it would seem to violate the principle of equality of arms. As for having a secret trial, what about the need for justice to be seen to be done? Instead of a course in gender studies, these students would benefit more from a course in the fundamentals of due process.

  5. “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.”

    Don’t worry; when the time comes, the students will demand public trials — the show trial kind.

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