Harvard Zealots Abuse Title IX to Nail the Accused

Harvard is perhaps the only institution in the country with multiple sets of Title IX procedures, depending on which branch of the university the student attends. At Harvard Law School, the parties are allowed to have full legal representation, the tribunal is basically independent, and there’s meaningful discovery. Harvard undergraduates, on the other hand, experience one of the most unfair procedures of any school—no hearing, no cross-examination, a single-investigator model that allows one person, hired by the Title IX office, to serve as investigator, judge, and jury.

Though inconsistent with the new Title IX regulations proposed by Betsy DeVos, the university is desperate to retain its one-sided procedures. Harvard’s new president, Lawrence Bacow, recently informed the Crimson, “It’s important to be able to encourage people to come forward, to do so without fear, and I think we are not in a position as colleges and universities more broadly, to create a process which just mimics what might be adjudicated in a court of law. I think that would be an inappropriate process for us.” He offered no evidence that fair procedures discouraged reporting, nor any explanation of whether the HLS procedures, which do provide fairness, discourage reporting.

Ironically, even as Bacow has joined the charge against DeVos’ efforts to require cross-examination in Title IX hearings, his university has undermined one of the other (bad-faith) arguments against the new regulations—that they would prevent universities from adjudicating off-campus allegations. The proposed regulations note that no bright line exists between on- and off-campus allegations, and cite to a case from Kansas in which a U.S. district court made clear that an allegation from an off-campus fraternity nonetheless had to be adjudicated under Title IX. The proposed regulation’s intent, rather, seems to be to clarify that Title IX adjudication systems ought not to substitute for either the criminal or the civil courts and that the Title IX bureaucracy should stay out of matters that have nothing to do with the situation on campus.

[Why This Is a Very Scary Time for Young Men]

And yet Harvard is currently in federal court fighting for the right to adjudicate such a case. A Harvard student, identified in court filings only as John Doe, had a sexual encounter hundreds of miles away with a non-Harvard female. The encounter had nothing to do with Harvard in any way. The accuser claimed that she hadn’t consented; Doe maintained that the encounter was consensual. The accuser complained to the police, but they declined to file charges. So, she filed a civil suit against Doe, which currently is working its way through the court system. This is not a case, in short, of an accuser being “silenced” in any way: she’ll have her day in court.

Around seven months after filing her civil suit, the accuser or her representative appears to have approached Harvard and indicated a desire to file a Title IX complaint against Doe. (To reiterate: the accuser has no connection to Harvard, and the alleged incident occurred in another state, not at a Harvard-related event.) It’s not hard to figure out why the accuser’s lawyer might have wanted to pursue such a course: Doe would have far fewer procedural protections before Harvard’s Title IX tribunal than he would have in civil litigation, and a guilty finding from Harvard would boost the accuser’s civil case.

A few months ago, the First Circuit (in a case involving allegations against students at Brown) had made clear that universities had no obligation under Title IX to adjudicate non-student claims like these. Only if, a three-judge panel noted, the accusing non-student sought to “access university libraries, computer labs, and vocational resources and attend campus tours, public lectures, sporting events, and other activities at covered institutions” would the university need to move forward, since in “any of those instances, the members of the public are either taking part or trying to take part of a funding recipient institution’s educational program or activity.” In the Harvard case, the accusing student had made no indication that she ever planned to make use of any Harvard resources.

[Should We Believe Whatever a Woman Says About Sexual Assault?]

Nor did Harvard University’s own Title IX policy cover the accuser’s claim. It applies to off-campus behavior only if “the conduct was in connection with a University or University-recognized program or activity” (not the case here) or if “the conduct may have the effect of creating a hostile environment for a member of the University community” (also not the case here, since the accuser isn’t a member of the Harvard community). In its effort to implement this policy, Harvard hired more than 50 Title IX staffers.

Despite these precedents, Harvard elected to move forward with the adjudication, prompting Doe to sue. He requested a preliminary injunction, and the case was assigned to Judge Indira Talwani, an Obama nominee recommended by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. According to a joint filing by the two sides, at a hearing last week Talwani expressed skepticism that Harvard had authority, under its Title IX policy, to move forward with the investigation.

That might have ended the case. But the university, remarkably, insisted that if it couldn’t adjudicate Doe under its Title IX policy, it would charge him under Harvard’s general disciplinary policy, which has few limitations. (According to the joint filing, Talwani was more open to this argument.) Harvard’s position thus amounts to a suggestion that all sexual assault allegations will be adjudicated under its Title IX policy—except those for which the Title IX policy has no jurisdiction, in which case Harvard will just use another policy.

In other words, according to Harvard, there’s no limitation at all on when and how it can adjudicate sexual assault allegations. This is, to put it mildly, a far cry from the refrain of accusers’ rights groups that universities are actually eager not to try sexual assault allegations. President Bacow doubtless recognizes what his predecessor also understood: the only campus pressure on this issue comes from accusers’ rights activists, and no president will face campus difficulties for cracking down through procedurally unfair actions.

In an ideal world, Harvard’s actions would have generated widespread criticism—both for their basic unfairness and for the university’s willingness to set aside its own procedures to reach its desired outcome. Instead, it’s been Doe’s actions that have come under public attack. WBUR commentator Lauren Rickleen argued that the student’s lawsuit illustrated the “world that Betsy DeVos has created” about Title IX’s inapplicability to off-campus activity involving non-students—ignoring that the key ruling on this issue came not from DeVos but from the First Circuit. Even more extreme sentiments came from Boston University’s campus newspaper, which argued that Doe should never have filed the lawsuit. Instead, the student editors wildly asserted, “you’d think someone accused of a crime would want to be proven innocent.”

This sort of rhetoric, which once was confined to the far-right fringes of the 1990s victims’ rights movement, now has entered the mainstream: a Crimson editorial described DeVos’ efforts to bolster the rights of accused students as actually placing a “newfound emphasis on the protection of perpetrators’ rights.” Once someone is accused, the Harvard student editors seem to believe, that student becomes a “perpetrator”—at least in the Title IX context.

Talwani has yet to rule; both parties have promised an additional report this Friday.


  • 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 “Harvard Zealots Abuse Title IX to Nail the Accused

  1. Although the situations are different, Yale University showed a similar level of eagerness to charge Jack Montague.

  2. Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!
    Or, …. bring me the head of someone…. who, somewhere or at sometime, has been accused or would be accused or might be accused by some woman who feels, for some reason, that she’s been somehow wronged!

    It really doesn’t matter how. Nor does the factuality of the situation really factor in. (If Alfredo didn’t do it….he might have done it….or he could do it….or he did it to someone else.) What matters is that the the Accuser says he did; and our first duty is to believe (to hell with Alfredo!).

    He did what? He did something that she didn’t want (at least maybe not in that way, at that time, or later sometime after she had a chance to think about it some more…maybe after he didn’t call….or after she saw him with someone else two months out). That’s all it takes: the existence of a feeling on the part of the ‘victim’ that she had an experience (of a sexual nature) that she says was unwanted. And that is Sexual Assault. And that opens the doors to Bureaucratic Hell…with all its deans and demons and shining guillotines (all very self-righteously blood-thirsty).

    But let us be absolutely clear. Rape is a horrendous crime. Second only to murder as a violent violation of one’s humanity. That is why it’s considered a felony; that is why conviction of such a heinous act merits decades of incarceration. But that is also exactly why the accusation of felony rape has no place in a Collegiate Disciplinary Committee.

    Rape is not the equivalent of cheating on a mid-term….it is not the equivalent of a loud and obnoxious roommate….or a teacher who didn’t give you a grade you believe you deserved. Rape is different. Rape requires police and prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys and rape-kit testing…and trials before juries of one’s peers…and skilled interrogations….and crime scene investigation….and all the protections owed the presumed-innocent accused.

    But all that means that it’s difficult to prove someone guilty of rape (especially in ‘he said-she said’ situations).

    So if what we really want is vengeance (Alfredo treated me badly and I want him OUTAHERE!) what the Obama-driven perversion of Title IX very clearly enables is that very vengeance. It removes due-process; it destroys cross-examination; it presumes guilt; and it redefines the evidentiary standards (reviewed only the Kollegiate Kangaroo Kourts). It forces the accused to prove his innocence. And since the very existence of the ‘crime’ depends entirely upon the state of mind of the Accuser, the Accused stands on very shaky ground to assert that “It” was consensual when she says it wasn’t.

    And once you build a multi-million dollar, bureaucratic hammer….it is the nature of the hammer to find and drive recalcitrant nails….as far into oblivion as possible, as quickly and thoroughly as possible….and to thereby demonstrate its stellar worth to the Administration as it asks (and receives) more funding. (Unless, of course, you’re an Administrator who is willing to stand and die upon the hill of “We don’t need to spend anymore money to protect our female students & staff!”)

    The whole thing would be pathetic if it weren’t so bloody dangerous. It would laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

  3. Harvard is claiming in the 12/14 filing that the “Ad Board referred this matter to the ODR for investigation.” My reading of the documents is that the Title IX Coordinator filed the complaint, and the ODR accepted jurisdiction. The Ad Board is only now getting involved and accepting jurisdiction now that there is a lawsuit.

    This is, of course, after the Title IX Coordinator and ODR have spent months developing the complaint. But Title IX coordinator is not on the Ad Board. without a referral from the Ad Board, did the ODR have the authority to investigate and charge John Doe in the first place?

    The relevant clause in the Harvard regulations appears to be:

    “cases involving such conduct may be referred by the relevant Administrative Board (“Ad Board”) to the Harvard University Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) for investigation in accordance with the University Procedures and the jurisdictional guidelines described in this Policy”

    I have looked on the Harvard website and do not see the Title IX coordinator as either a member or staff of Ad Board.

    The Title IX office and ODR may also be legally vulnerable with respect to FERPA. If they are involved in a matter in which they weren’t given jurisdiction; even disclosing basic information to the Complainant’s attorneys about Doe’s enrollment status could have violated federal laws.

  4. ANY complaint of rape, whether occurring on campus or off, should be left to the police to investigate. The police are trained in collecting evidence, interrogating witnesses, etc. College administrators do not. Under the Constitution, the accused has a right to a speedy trial, the right to a trial by a jury of his/her peers, the right to cross-examine any and all witnesses and to be represented by a lawyer. Under Title IX, the accused doesn’t, although de Vos has been trying to rectify this injustice with a clearer definition and better boundaries.

    Title IX cases have run the gamut of the absurd. Remember the UVA fake gang rape case involving Rolling Stone magazine; the 2013 Morgan Triplett fake rape case; the 2004 Desiree Nall fake two-man rape case; the 1991 Mindy Brickman fake rape case; the 2013 Meg Simons fake rape case; the 2009 Danmell Ndonye fake gang rape case; the 2013 Tanya Borachi fake rape case; the 1990 Mariam Kashani fake two man rape case; the 2014 Emma Sulkowicz fake rape case; the 1987 Tawana Brawley fake gang rape case; the list could go on, but you get the picture.

    Women DO lie about being raped. Rape is a crime that should be thoroughly investigated by the POLICE, regardless of whether it’s alleged to have been committed on campus or off. Leave the investigation to trained professionals, not college adminisitrators.

  5. “It’s important to be able to encourage people to come forward, to do so without fear, and I think we are not in a position as colleges and universities more broadly, to create a process which just mimics what might be adjudicated in a court of law. I think that would be an inappropriate process for us.”

    This is the convoluted mess created by taking a psychological/therapeutic approach to student affairs. They have these women with hurt feelings and they want to help them, to wipe away their tears — except that they neglect to make a distinction between the woman’s emotional distress and the objective facts of the situation.

    They are co-mingling two very different tasks — that of the therapist upon whose shoulder the distraught woman can cry, and that of the objective student affairs administrator whose job it is to dispassionately enforce the “thou shalt not” regulations.

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