December 23, 2014

MICHAEL BARONE: Free speech, political correctness struggle to coexist on campus.

The total discrediting of Rolling Stone’s story on rape at the University of Virginia has shined a light on one of the least palatable features of American life: the so-called epidemic of rape on campus.

Authorities from Barack Obama on down have cited the phony statistic that one in five college women is raped. Phony, because it’s based on a 2007 survey conducted at two Midwestern schools, not of a random sample, but of a small number of self-selected respondents. The study also includes unwanted touching and kissing in its broad definition of “sexual assault.”

A Department of Justice survey released this month presents a different picture. Between 1995 and 2013, it reports, an average of 0.61 percent of female students were raped or sexually assaulted every year — 2.4 percent over four years, not 20 percent. Moreover, DOJ reports, that rate has been declining significantly in recent years, in line with a national decline in rape.

In other words, there is no suddenly raging epidemic of rape on campus. Nevertheless, colleges and universities have been scampering to comply with mandates from the Obama Department of Education to set up procedures in which campus administrators, with no legal training, act as investigators, prosecutors, judges, juries and executioners.

Accused students are not allowed to have lawyers or to confront witnesses, and legal rules of evidence do not apply. State legislatures have passed or are considering laws requiring schools to adopt (and many schools are adopting) a “yes means yes” standard, requiring express consent at each stage of a sexual encounter.

These kangaroo courts can and do expel male students, putting a blot on their records for life. No wonder dozens of them are suing universities and getting big cash settlements. No wonder 28 current and retired Harvard law professors signed a letter calling such processes “deeply unfair and undemocratic.”

Some day, I suspect, this frenzy will be seen as akin to the hysteria over satanic abuse in day care centers in the 1980s. Many people went to jail over utterly fraudulent charges based on bogus psychological research, akin to the Salem witch trials.

Administrators’ thumbs are heavily on the scales here, and it’s not on the side of free speech. As I say, this is ripe for Congressional civil rights legislation.

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