The latest Spangler Report from Yale is now out—and it portrays a deeply dangerous campus: around 1.75 percent of Yale undergraduate females as victims of sexual assault in the first six months of 2018. (That’s a violent crime rate around twice as high as that of Detroit, which the FBI rates as the nation’s most dangerous city.)
No evidence exists, however, that Yale warns incoming students about the extraordinary risk in matriculating at the school—and far more female (and male) students seek admission to Yale than receive spots in the incoming class. Even so, Spangler seems almost excited about the numbers, which (she says) hopefully reflect, “at least in large part, a growing awareness of the ways in which Yale’s resources can be helpful in addressing instances of sexual misconduct.”
Yale is the only school to provide reports like Spangler’s (thanks to a 2012 resolution agreement with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights). Minding the Campus has broken down each of the previous Spangler documents, which have shared less information in recent years.
Earlier Spangler reports documented odd investigations based on anonymous complaints—and sometimes with anonymous targets; the “resolution” of a complaint against a professor, with his department chair to “monitor” him, without officially informing him of the complaint, and the increasing power of the Title IX coordinator’s office—as opposed to the Yale Police or even the Yale UWC (the body that adjudicates sexual assault complaints)—in handling student investigations.
As always with the Spangler Report, the details don’t match the apocalyptic toplines. The report lists 50 undergraduates who were sexually assaulted between January 1 and June 30 of this year. Of these, 18 cases have no details at all, because the allegation came “from a third party, such as an administrator, a friend of those involved, or a witness,” and the accuser did not pursue the matter.
Of the remaining 32 cases, only five went before the UWC, Yale’s adjudication panel. (The panel, for reasons Yale hasn’t explained, doesn’t keep a transcript of its hearings and does not make public the training material that panelists received.) Of these five cases, one student withdrew from Yale rather than go through the UWC process. A second was found guilty and received a one-semester suspension.
Of the other three, two were found not guilty. A fifth never went to a hearing since “the UWC did not accept the complaint because it did not meet the requirements necessary to accept jurisdiction.” Yet all three of these cases—including the complaint that (apparently) didn’t even fit the definition of a sexual assault—are listed in Spangler’s top-line figure. A reader would have to go through the report’s fine print to discover that during the six-month period, only one undergraduate was found guilty in a procedurally biased system, and his offense presumably was minor, since the punishment was a short suspension.
Spangler’s new report has one other intriguing data point: of the 50 Yale undergraduates listed as suffering a sexual assault, around 25 percent didn’t or couldn’t identify whether their attacker was a Yale student. The report provides no additional detail on this matter, but presumably, some of these cases fall under a rubric that Spangler eliminated in 2016: complaints from Yale students saying that another Yale student was attacked (without saying who the student is) by an unidentified party. These reports, in short, testify more to an atmosphere of moral panic than anything else, yet are treated as credible allegations in the Spangler summary.
Reflecting a pattern that started to emerge two years ago, the vast majority of allegations at Yale go to the Title IX office, but are not adjudicated. In seven of these cases, the accuser received an academic accommodation. In other cases, the Title IX office offered “counseling” to the accused student. Yale’s approach in these matters is to accept the allegation as true—a not unreasonable strategy as long as the accused student faces no punishment—but there’s no way for an outsider to know whether these allegations actually were true, false, or ambiguous.
At least two Title IX investigations—one against a staff member, the other against a professor—resulted from anonymous allegations, alleging that the Yale employee had assaulted or harassed other Yale students. In both instances, the accused party was found not guilty—but a system in which anonymous complaints can trigger a sexual assault investigation (in an environment, as Yale showed with the Patrick Witt case, where the university can’t maintain confidentiality) raises concerns.
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 initially did last year, Spangler admits that Yale “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.
Finally, the report shows how Jack Montague’s lawsuit against Yale has had an impact not only on the Spangler Reports but, it seems, on how Yale handles sexual assault allegations as a whole. In Montague’s case, the complaint was filed not by his accuser—but instead by Yale’s Title IX office, despite Spangler’s assertion from the time that “only in extremely rare cases, where there is serious risk to the safety of individuals or the community, will the University take independent action.” No one claimed that Montague was a “risk to the safety” of anyone at the time charges were filed against him, much less a “serious” one. (The alleged incident had occurred a year before.)
In the last two Spangler documents, this language was modified, and moved to the body of the report, so that it no longer comes under Spangler’s signature.
The first occasion of the post-Montague wording (my emphasis added): “In certain unusual circumstances, such as those involving risks to the safety of individuals and/or the community, the University will bring matters to a formal hearing independently of the wishes of an individual complainant.” Under this new language, the charges against Montague might have been justified—his situation, perhaps, was “unusual” because he was high-profile. The second post-Montague modification (again, emphasis added): “Except in cases of acute threat of harm to the complainant or to the campus community, the Title IX coordinator will not take any action without the complainant’s agreement.” But, of course, neither of the italicized passages were in place when Yale moved against Montague.
Eighteen months ago, Spangler also promised updated sexual assault “scenarios” that would explain how Yale determined guilt, and what sort of penalties were appropriate in different cases. This report, however, joined its two predecessors in not mentioning updated scenarios—perhaps as a response to Montague citing the existing scenarios as another indication of his unfair treatment?