Few universities have a more troubling record on Title IX matters than Yale. A few months after settling a lawsuit brought by former basketball captain Jack Montague—thereby avoiding trial on a variety of claims, including that the university manipulated its procedures to bring charges against Montague and then found him guilty despite a preponderance of the evidence suggesting otherwise—the university has released its sixteenth semi-annual report of sexual assault allegations among the Yale student body.
As always—if accepted at face value—the data in the report, penned by Deputy Provost for Health Affairs & Academic Integrity Stephanie Spangler, indicates an extraordinarily dangerous campus, beset (at least for female undergraduates) with a much higher violent crime rate than any of the nation’s most dangerous cities. And, as always, the specifics within the Spangler Report suggest instead a campus motivated by a frenzy to report, with few cases even brought for adjudication in Yale’s notoriously one-sided adjudication system, the University-Wide Committee.
Two general points about the report. First, and as she has done in previous reports, Spangler explains that her document “uses a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than that offered in state or federal law. She has never provided an explanation as to why Yale has chosen to redefine a commonly-understood term, but the broader definition allows figures that create a greater sense of crisis. Second, the latest Spangler report (repeating a change that debuted in her spring 2019 report) contains a chart of all reports at Yale since the implementation of the new Title IX regime in 2011—culminating in a remarkable 169 Title IX complaints between January 1 and June 30, 2019.
At first blush, the chart suggests a campus awash in violent crime. A closer look, however, shows that formal adjudications of Title IX cases (medium blue on the chart) have actually decreased, by a fairly substantial percentage, since the 2014 calendar year. Spangler’s report offers no explanation for this trend, or what it might say about dubious claims being submitted to the Title IX office (dark blue on the chart) by accusers who have no intention of moving forward with their claims.
Yale is the only school to provide reports like Spangler’s (thanks to a resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights). Minding the Campus has broken down each of the previous Spangler documents. 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 UWC—in handling student investigations. Over the years, Spangler has removed more and more details from her reports—the documents, for instance, no longer detail third-party reports involving anonymous alleged victims and accused students. But a couple of items from the most recent report do stand out.
First, fewer than one-quarter of the total complaint involves sexual assault (even under Spangler’s counterintuitive, broadened definition). Fourteen percent of the complaints fall under the category of an unexplained “other” (an offense other than sexual harassment, sexual assault very broadly defined, stalking, or intimate partner violence). And while the vast majority of accused parties at Yale are male, in 43 cases (more than a quarter of the total), Spangler’s report admitted that the university didn’t know the gender of the accused party—raising questions as to how such superficial claims could make it into the report at all.
Second, despite the topline crime wave claim (169 allegations of Title IX misconduct), only five sexual assault cases were adjudicated at Yale during the first six months of 2019. Unsurprisingly, given the university’s guilt-tilting procedures, four of the five accused students were found guilty. But the punishments (three-semester suspensions in two cases, probation in the other two) suggest the actual offense was far less severe than the commonly understood definition of sexual assault. The vast majority of cases, in any event, ended with either academic or residential accommodations for the accuser but no action against the accused. In many of these cases, it appears as if the accused student wasn’t even contacted to give his side of the story; instead, the Title IX office simply provided accommodations to the accuser.
Third, perhaps reflecting a broader national trend, the age of accusers is rising. A whopping 36 complaints were filed by Yale graduate or professional students—a cohort, of course, that all would have attended college in the post-Dear Colleague letter environment and have become accustomed to the accuser-friendly Title IX environment. Nine allegations, meanwhile, were filed against Yale professors. The increased number of complaints filed by female graduate students (who are a smaller percentage of the overall Yale community than female undergraduates) suggests that Yale—defying national data—becomes more dangerous for female students as they age out of the 18-24-year-old cohort.
Finally, perhaps reflecting the legacy of the Montague case, the report now claims that “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.” This language (“certain unusual circumstances”) provides much more flexibility than the pre-Montague language, which caused problems for the Yale in the lawsuit, after the university’s Title IX office, rather than the accuser, brought charges—even though the exceptions then offered by Yale didn’t apply to the facts of the Montague case.