The National Coalition For Men Carolinas (NCFMC) a chapter of the nation’s oldest men’s human rights organization that advocates on behalf of falsely accused college students facing Title IX sexual misconduct cases, met yesterday with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a closed 90 minute session.
Several students shared painful, often emotional accounts of how they were victimized under policies promulgated by the Department of Education’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) through the issuance of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) which ordered universities to lower the standard of proof used in adjudicating Title IX cases to a “preponderance of evidence” instead of the “clear and convincing” standard that many schools previously had in place.
Students recounted how they were presumed guilty by the university they attended, intentionally not notified of the allegations brought against them and in some cases not even provided the identity of who their accusers were. They also related how they were pressured by the university to admit wrong-doing even in the face of evidence that pointed to their innocence.
NCFMC routinely hears from families of falsely accused students that due process rights such as witnesses appearing on behalf of the accused, the introduction of exculpatory evidence and the ability to question or cross examine the complainant’s account of what was alleged to have taken place are routinely denied to the accused student. Equally troubling is that, with young lives hanging in the balance, attorneys are not allowed to participate in a university Title IX hearing. Most disturbing is that the constitutional protections for an accused citizen, namely those of due process and impartiality, are not guaranteed in these cases.
The cases that were shared yesterday represent a small sampling of the approximately 170 lawsuits filed against universities in which 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.
NCFMC joins those who argue that universities are not the proper institution to prosecute sexual assault or rape cases. In that regard, we echo Congressional testimony provided previously by Molly Corbett Broad, President of the American Council on Education, who stated:
Conducting education and providing information is an area where college officials have vast experience. We must redouble our education efforts on sexual assault, and as I noted earlier, institutions are moving aggressively to do this. But performing investigations and adjudicating cases is a far more difficult challenge. We lack the authority to subpoena witnesses, control evidence and impose legal standards.
Our disciplinary and grievance procedures were designed to provide appropriate resolution of institutional standards for student conduct, especially with respect to academic matters. They were never meant for misdemeanors, let alone felonies. While we take our obligations to the victims/survivors of sexual assault very seriously and are fully aware of our responsibilities with respect to sexual assaults, our on-campus disciplinary processes are not proxies for the criminal justice system, nor should they be.
While higher education faces many challenges today, the issue of how to handle sexual misconduct on college campuses is firmly planted in the national spotlight. No one denies that sexual assault on college campuses is a serious matter. Yet the prescribed solution by the Department of Education under the previous administration worsens the situation by denying the presumption of innocence and fair treatment, eviscerating due process for any student facing a Title IX university disciplinary hearing.
NCFMC is appalled that Senators Casey, Gillibrand, and Blumenthal routinely disparage those who advocate for the fair treatment and due process rights of accused students without having the courage to meet and listen to those who are falsely accused, prejudged as guilty and routinely expelled from their university. It is NCFMC’ position that due process rights are guaranteed to all citizens in this nation, in all cases, and at all times. We must strongly protect against impugning this fundamental right. Furthermore, sexual assault should not be swept under the rug by universities, and neither should due process rights of students be tossed out the door.
Taking the rights of sexual assault victims and protecting those falsely accused of sexual misconduct should not be mutually exclusive. Likewise, campus safety should not be treated as a zero-sum game. No citizen should be labeled a rapist for life without the required “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard rather than the method currently used at universities (essentially an arbitrary flip of a coin, which is what the preponderance of the evidence standard equates to). NCFMC thanks Secretary DeVos for her unwavering leadership in examining all sides to a very complex and intrusive issue. And the organization hopes that, based on yesterday’s meeting, the Department of Education will revisit and reconsider how both sexual assault victims and the falsely accused are treated, along with a revision of the 2011 DCL to reflect guaranteed due process rights for students.