Monday’s Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article by Sarah Brown, a very one-sided article, on a gathering dealing with campus efforts to cope with sexual assault. It reviewed
a federally-funded program, the National Center for Campus Public Safety, to better train colleges in adjudicating allegations of sexual assault. “I want to get this right,” Brown quoted one investigator, articulating her strategy for interrogating accused students.
But the article, in fact, portrayed a gathering in which there seemed to be little interest in getting it right. It shows no interest in fairness to the accused.
The piece doesn’t list any defense lawyers as speakers. It doesn’t appear as if anyone from FIRE or any other group devoted to academic civil liberties was invited to speak. Of course, a meeting of (say) the National District Attorneys Association might not feature such speakers, either. But the college process—supposedly—isn’t prosecutorial (one reason why colleges claim it’s OK to exclude lawyers from meaningful participation, and not to have discovery). It’s a neutral search for the truth. So why would a federally-funded organization, amidst a conference that wanted to “get this right,” hear only from those involved on one side of the process?
The dangers of one-sidedness appeared in Brown’s discussion of a panel entitled, “Interviewing the Respondent.” Brown paraphrased the advice given: “Ask about the (accusing) student’s background — where they’re from, what they do outside of class, and where they spend time on the campus. Ask about witnesses. Seek evidence, like text messages and social-media accounts.” She then quoted from one of the presenters, waiving a smartphone: “These are little miracles for corroboration.”
What’s missing from this is that the burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused. (The article contained no mention that Margolis Healy, a campus safety firm, and its solicited presenters urged that investigators force accusers to provide electronic evidence that corroborates their claims—or recommended asking accusers how they spent their time on campus, or what they did outside class. Indeed, such questions almost certainly would yield a strong attack from groups like Know Your IX.) Moreover, one of the greatest shortcomings of the college process is that it lacks the legal power to obtain such evidence. An accuser making a false allegation, or a guilty accused student, will simply refuse to provide evidence that contradicts their version of events. And the school can do nothing.
More striking was the information Brown’s article didn’t contain. She mentioned that Margolis Healy coordinated the National Center for Campus Public Safety through a federal grant, but (oddly) didn’t reveal the amount of the grant. According to USAspending.gov, through the end of 2015, Margolis Healy has received $5,854,732 in taxpayer funds, with the grant scheduled to continue until April 2017. The total grant thus seems to exceed $8 million.
And what sort of training does Margolis Healy provide? Brown’s article doesn’t say. I’ve previously looked at Margolis Healy’s unusual approach to training, in the context of its training of Middlebury’s sexual assault investigators. The training heavily relied on the discredited David Lisak; instructed Middlebury officials that they must “start by believing” the accuser (they weren’t supposed to use terms like “accuser” in their reports); and held that the investigator’s report “should not include . . . consensual language” or note that the “victim has inconsistencies with her story.” But what if the accused student wasn’t guilty, and the inconsistencies of the “victim” would prove the accused student’s innocence? That outcome doesn’t appear to have crossed the minds of the Margolis Healy trainers.
After the Middlebury piece appeared at Minding the Campus, Margolis Healy removed its training slides from the web. It would seem that—for around $8 million in taxpayers’ funds—the public has a right to know how, specifically, this firm trains colleges to reach the “truth” in sexual assault claims.