This month, thousands of college students are heading back to school excitedly looking forward to their Fall semester. For many, this will be a time to meet new people, establish lifelong friendships, and embrace college life to its fullest.
But we wonder how many will be ensnared and destroyed by biased Title IX sexual misconduct hearings occurring on campuses across the country.
Higher education faces many challenges today, and the issue of how to handle sexual misconduct on college campuses is in the forefront. No one denies that sexual assault on college campuses is a serious matter. Yet the prescribed solution by the Department of Education in denying fairness and impartiality eviscerates due process for students facing a Title IX related hearing.
Last month, our organization brought a contingent of college students to meet with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a listening session for students falsely accused of sexual misconduct. Students recounted how they were presumed guilty by their university, often not notified of the allegations brought against them and in some cases not provided the identity of their accusers. They also related how they were pressured by the university to admit wrongdoing even in the face of evidence that pointed to their innocence.
Accused college students have been denied fundamental due process rights such as witnesses appearing on their behalf, the introduction of exculpatory evidence, and the ability to question or cross examine the accuser's account. Equally troubling is that, with young lives hanging in the balance, attorneys are often barred from fully participating in university Title IX hearings.
The cases shared with Secretary DeVos represent a small sampling of the approximately 180+ lawsuits filed against universities in which student plaintiffs allege being denied due process, subjected to "kangaroo court" tribunals complete with rubber-stamped expulsions as a direct result of university fear of OCR reprisal.
Rape is a deplorable crime, but that doesn't justify closing one's eyes to the horror stories of young men caught up in a Kafkaesque disciplinary system in which the accused are presumed guilty and have no effective means to defend themselves.
Have we forgotten the painful lessons learned at the expense of so many college men falsely accused of rape? Let us never forget cases like that of the accused Duke University Lacrosse players, or the University of Virginia fraternity, both examples of perpetuated rape hoaxes that ruined innocent male students' lives.
We need the education Department to issue regulations that give students access to consistent, clear, and transparent processes that provide fair and equal treatment to both the accuser (the reporting party) and the accused (the responding party); that ensure impartiality in the investigation and adjudication of Title IX related misconduct cases; that provide due process for students; and that warn college-bound students about schools which have had lawsuits filed against alleging denial of due process or the mishandling of their Title IX hearing--so that students can make more informed enrollment decisions.
The regulations need to bring clarity to the unique concerns that arise in sexual misconduct cases, such as a school's responsibility to notify local law enforcement if they have reasonable belief based upon reliable evidence that a violent crime has been committed and guidance issued on proactive efforts schools can take to prevent sexual violence. Universities need policies that enable victims of sexual assault to feel safe and secure in their reporting while being fair in the treatment to both accuser and accused.
Most postsecondary institutions provide a high-quality education that equips students with new knowledge and skills and prepares them for their careers in a manner that is consistent with the directives of Title IX. However, when schools fail to provide fair treatment to students by demonstrating disciplinary outcomes that consistently favor one gender over another by denying due process, they violate the mandate of Title IX which promises all students an educational environment free from discrimination regardless of gender.
Following her listening sessions with impacted college students, Secretary DeVos stated "a system without due process ultimately serves no one in the end" during her press conference. Let's make sure that due process and impartiality become the new standard to serve and protect students everywhere.
C.D. Mock is the director of public affairs for the National Coalition For Men Carolinas (NCFMC).
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