In a 2012 resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, Yale became the nation’s only university required to document all sexual assault allegations on campus. The reports, prepared by Yale Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, are generally bare-bones (and became even more so last year, after Spangler announced she’d decided to supply less information about some unresolved complaints), but nonetheless provide a peek into the deeply unhealthy atmosphere—at least at elite campuses—regarding the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault complaints. The most recent of the Spangler Reports, which covers events in the first six months of 2017, has now appeared.
Minding the Campus has covered each of the previous Spangler reports, which have included such items as:
- An increasing pattern of Yale’s Title IX office filings complaints on their own, without a formal complaint by the alleged victim, and odd investigations based on anonymous complaints—and sometimes with anonymous targets;
- After basketball star Jack Montague, target of one of these Title IX office-initiated complaints, sued Yale, Spangler without explanation deleted from her next report a statement that severely limited when and how the Title IX office could file complaints on its own, since the statement all but conceded that Yale had violated its own procedures in the Montague case;
- The “resolution” of a complaint against a professor, with his department chair to “monitor” him, even though the professor had never officially been informed of the complaint;
- A student was punished though even Yale’s due process-unfriendly system had found not culpable for the allegations against him;
- Students have been charged under a vague standard that included “emotional or economic abuse” by “roommates”;
- Faculty members (five in the second half of 2016 alone) increasingly were targeted by the Title IX process.
As always, Spangler notes that the university “uses a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than does either Connecticut state law or the federal government (through Clery Act requirements). The university has never offered an explanation as to why it does so. As she did for the first time in her early 2017 report, Spangler has added adds a vague assertion that it “assigns complaints to general categories such as ‘sexual assault’ . . . that encompass broad ranges of behavior”—but, again, why sexual assault should “encompass broad ranges of behavior” beyond the common legal or cultural understanding of the term remains a mystery.
Channeling Crime Victims Away from Law Enforcement
Defenders of the Obama-era Title IX guidelines generally deny that the guidelines undermine society’s goal of punishing criminals through the judicial system. Rather, they suggest, filing a Title IX complaint doesn’t preclude an accuser from also going to the police.
The Spangler Reports show the shortcomings of this argument: for the vast majority of accusers, the choice between Title IX and law enforcement is an either-or selection. (This should come as little surprise, given the anti-judicial system rhetoric of much of the accusers’ rights movement.) The most recent Spangler document indicates that only 3.7 percent (1 of 27) of Yale accusers who say they were sexually assaulted reported that offense to the police. All others went to the Title IX office. This figure is typical: for the July-December 2016 period, 4.3 percent (1 of 23) of accusers went to the police.
Through procedures ordered by the federal government, Title IX tribunals function as de facto substitutes for law enforcement and only heighten the importance of their failure to provide fair procedures. Indeed, this kind of system provides support for Jed Rubenfeld’s argument that the Due Process Clause should apply to campus Title IX adjudications.
As described by Spangler, the Yale University campus is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the entire country. The report indicates that 0.8 percent of female undergraduates considered themselves a victim of violent crime (either sexual assault or intimate partner violence) in the first six months of 2017 alone. Such an annual rate has a typical Yale female undergraduate as at nearly as much risk as a resident of Detroit (the nation’s most dangerous city) of being a victim of all forms of violent crime.
And, Spangler assures her readers, Yale’s campus is even more dangerous than these figures suggest. “We know,” Spangler writes, that a “significant number of individuals who have experienced sexual misconduct do not report their experiences to University officials or seek support from University resources.” So, for a typical female undergraduate, Yale might actually be more dangerous than Detroit. Yet parents are still eager to spend upwards of $250,000 to send their daughters into this den of violent crime.
Yale’s disciplinary sentences, however, seem to be at odds with Spangler’s picture of a campus beset by an epidemic of violent crime. All three undergraduates who appeared before the UWC (Yale’s Title IX disciplinary tribunal) unsurprisingly were found guilty, though one was cleared of the most serious charges. The sentences? A reprimand, a three-term suspension, and a two-term suspension. The latter two punishments came for students found guilty of “sexual penetration without consent.”
There are two ways of interpreting this data. First, Yale believes that rapists—an offense that describes “sexual penetration without consent”—should not be expelled. Second, amidst a moral panic, Yale has so redefined what constitutes “sexual penetration without consent” as to trivialize the offense.
The Title IX Coordinator
Continuing a pattern evident in the last couple of Spangler Reports, the vast majority of cases were clustered in the Title IX coordinator—23 of 27 reports of sexual assault went not to police or even to a hearing, but instead just to the coordinator. In one respect, this is a good thing: an accuser can receive accommodations (including academic accommodations) without activating the kangaroo court. (Some of these allegations come across as almost blatant attempts to obtain accommodations, as in the Yale undergraduate who “reported that an individual whom the complainant did not identify sexually assaulted the complainant.”) In most of these cases, the accused student received counseling and a no-contact order (the allegation always appears to have been presumed true), but no additional punishment.
There are, however, two interesting items from the coordinator cluster. First, for the second consecutive reporting period, the Title IX office itself filed no sexual assault complaints against Yale students. This change reverses the previous practice of the office, rather than the accuser, filing complaints. It’s doubtless a coincidence that this shift came just after a lawsuit filed by Jack Montague, who was found guilty after the office, rather than his accuser, filed the Title IX charges against him. Ironically, this sudden disinclination of the Title IX office comes after the Spangler Report eliminated restrictions on the kind of complaints the office was supposed to file. The office’s disregard of those restrictions is at the heart of the Montague lawsuit.
Second, one way to see the Spangler Report is as a document designed to appease (or fuel) a campus accusers’ rights movement. The report provides no information about nearly three-fifths (16 of 27) of the sexual assault complaints filed by undergraduates. These were cases in which the accuser expressly asked the Title IX office to do nothing in cases that came to the attention of the Title IX office “from a third party, such as an administrator, a friend of those involved, or a witness.” Yet for the purpose of the report, each of these allegations is treated as a legitimate claim. When Spangler provided information about these sorts of cases, the summary often read something like a Yale student reported that an unknown student was sexually assaulted by another unknown student. A system that treats such reports seriously is hard to take seriously.
The previous Spangler Report promised that the university was “working to shed more light on Yale’s procedures through the creation of additional ‘hypothetical case scenarios’ that address a broad range of behaviors and are tailored to local campus communities.” No new scenarios appeared—the current report, instead, linked to the existing version of the scenarios, which Yale had appeared to ignore in the Montague case. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the lawsuit explains the sudden non-availability of new scenarios.
The previous report also implied that the Title IX office would be working to address unspecified “patterns of academic” life through a program that “has been offered in numerous departments” Such a plan seemed to violate academic freedom, by giving staff the power to dictate content. It’s unclear from the current report whether Spangler moved ahead with her effort.