STUDY: Most top schools deny ‘basic elements’ of due process

September 6, 2017


  • A new study of top universities in the U.S. found that “the overwhelming majority” of schools do not provide students with “the most basic elements” of due process.

  • According to FIRE, not a single one of the 53 schools surveyed receives an "A" grade for safeguarding the rights of the accused, and just 2 received a "B" grade on their sexual misconduct policies.

  • Laura Dunn, a legal advocate for victims, takes issue with FIRE's insistence on a "presumption of innocence," however, arguing that it "advantages the accused only."

A new study of top universities in the U.S. found that “the overwhelming majority” of schools do not provide students with “the most basic elements” of due process.


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) concluded that “nearly three-quarters (73.6%) of America’s top 53 universities do not even guarantee students that they will be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”


Additionally, FIRE found that a vast majority of top universities “maintain policies that receive a D or F grade for due process protections.”


“Most institutions have one set of standards for adjudicating charges of sexual misconduct and another for all other charges,” FIRE explains. “[Seventy-nine] percent of rated universities receive a D or F for protecting the due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct.”


The study primarily focused on examining the 53 top institutions that are ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s National University Rankings.


FIRE’s rating system was based on an analyses of “10 critically important procedural safeguards,” including “a clearly stated presumption of innocence,” the right “to impartial fact-finders,” the ability “to pose relevant questions to witnesses” and more.


“For each element, institutions received zero points if the safeguard was absent, was too narrowly defined to substantially protect students, or was subject to the total discretion of an administrator; one point if the policy provided some protection with respect to that element; and two points if the safeguard was clearly and completely articulated,” FIRE explained.


Remarkably, the study revealed that “of the 102 policies rated at the 53 schools in the report, not a single policy receives an A grade,” while only two schools “received a B for both their policies, governing alleged sexual misconduct and non-sexual misconduct.”


Laura Dunn, an executive director of SurvJustice and a legal advocate for the victims of sexual assault, challenged some of the FIRE’s proposed safeguards, including the “clearly stated presumption of innocence” for the accused.


“A presumption of innocence advantages the accused only, and Title IX requires equity,” Dunn said in an email to Inside Higher Ed. “No presumption should be made either way, and schools should engage in an inquisitorial process to determine the truth rather than artificially favor the accused going into it.”


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