There may well be a threshold at which verbal abuse constitutes legitimately punishable harassment, but the bill currently under consideration by the DC Council goes way, WAY, beyond those limits: "Virtually no speech or behavior that a student might consider insulting and that a petty bureaucrat might find offensive and disruptive is beyond the reach of this ban."
This open letter at Inside Higher Ed by an anonymous student affairs administrator is the most powerful piece of evidence I've seen so far showing why the mandates in the Office of Civil Rights' "Dear Colleague" letter go too far. The author complains that Russlynn Ali doesn't understand the job of an administrator who has to handle real cases as complex and contentious as sexual assault charges:
It is unlikely that Ms. Ali has ever sat at desk like mine, on the phone with a parent who cannot believe I allowed his daughter to drink, much less allowed (or not allowed -- always a difficult point to discuss) a "boy" to do the things her account reports. Or a parent who wants to know why I have sent her son home without so much as a hearing, an action we call "interim removal," while we investigate these claims. "Because the alleged victim is afraid of seeing him, and the Office for Civil Rights has made it clear that our process must support the alleged victim in this way" is not an answer that satisfies an angry mother who believes that her son (1) has been unjustly accused, (2) has not been given a chance to defend himself (yet), and 3) may find his ability to succeed academically compromised by his absence from classes during this investigation. Has Ms. Ali ever had a parent, in a rageful voice, point out the inequity of all of this? Because I've experienced that on several occasions as I have tried to do what OCR expects from a "victim-friendly" policy.
The author writes that experienced human judgment is a better approach to getting to the bottom of sexual assault charges than this "victim-friendly" rule: "I do not appreciate having my hands tied by the presumption of guilt the Dear Colleague Letter portrays." The OCR regulations thus harm not only students and their families but also the campus administrators trying to sort out these painful situations.
New mandatory regulations for college sexual harassment case procedures from the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) have made it much easier to return a guilty verdict but thanks to FIRE's tireless vigilance and PR efforts, a particularly egregious case at the University of North Dakota has seen justice done.
I wrote about the astonishing case of a professor at East Georgia College about two years ago; he was fired summarily for having had the temerity to criticize the school's sexual harassment policy. Just recently the case was settled for a mere $50,000. Read about it here. That seems like small compensation for the damage the college inflicted, but maybe there simply wasn't more to be gotten.
A professor at East Georgia College was just legally vindicated after being terminated, NOT for sexual harassment itself, but for merely criticizing his school's proposed policy at a faculty meeting in 2009. You can read about the details here, courtesy of our friends at FIRE, who these days seem to have more and more work to do. First Amendment Rights? Not when it comes to the SHI (sexual Harassment Industry). Never, never assume that we've finally reached the limits of Orwellian absurdity where this subject is concerned.
I noted recently that the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) had mandated new standards under which colleges and universities recieving federal funds would be obligated to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. Specifically, OCR now requires that all such inquiries apply a much lighter burden of proof in determining innocence or guilt. A "preponderance of evidence" - basically 51% - is all that's needed now in order to find you guilty. Many campus "harassment" procedures were already stacked pretty heavily against the accused, so the scales of justice appeared to tip even further in the same direction.
The picture hasn't gotten any brighter. Numerous commentators have blasted the new rules including Hans Bader, Counsel for Special Projects at the Competative Enterpirse Institute and a former OCR lawyer. He's written cogently on campus harassment codes over the years, and his most recent thoughts here and here aren't encouraging to anyone who cares about due process or the rights of the accused.
At a northeastern college the chair of a department also chaired a tenure and promotion committee that made a negative decision on an untenured associate professor. The associate professor under consideration had published many books and articles, and his publication record was better than the majority of tenured faculty at the institution. However, he had offended other of the senior faculty politically by outshining them. He was accused of lack of collegiality. The promotion committee rejected the tenure application, and that became news. Ultimately, the university's chancellor rescinded the committee's decision. Fast forward five years. Another professor, this time a full professor, offends the same departmental chair. The chair accuses the full professor of harrassing a female professor. The accusation of harassment is not referred to a personnel or EEO office, but is raised in a public, departmental meeting without investigation or hearing. The charges are discussed publicly. The departmental chair demands that a vote of censure be taken against the full professor. The full professor states that he was helping the untenured female professor and discussing a course with her, and that she does not claim that she was harassed. In other words, he was acting collegially. I deduce a simple conclusion for the politically incorrect: if you are collegial, you will be called a harasser. If you are a talented hard worker, you will be said to lack collegiality.
Thomas Thibeault, a professor of English at East Georgia College, was escorted from campus by police and suspended from teaching two days after he criticized the school's sexual harassment policy for lack of protection for the falsely accused. It appears that after voicing his concerns about the policy, he himself was falsely accused of sexual harassment. FIRE took on the case and now reports that East Georgia College has reinstated Thibeault after finding no evidence of sexual harassment. FIRE says that the case is "far from over," as EGC president John B. Black has engaged in new abuses of freedom. Greg Lukianoff said in a press release:
President Black has added to his blatant abuses of power by reprimanding Professor Thibeault for his speech, but never bothering to mention precisely what his offense was. Black has already retaliated against Thibeault by informing him that his contract would not be renewed after the spring semester. The bullying tactics at this college are breathtaking.
FIRE has enabled readers to take action and write to President Black and the Board of Regents by completing this form. NAS will be watching this case. SEE ALSO: NAS's statement on Sexual Harassment and Academic Freedom