Campus Rape Activists Feud Among Themselves

Brett Sokolow has been a model of inconsistency in the campus “rape wars.” As president of  the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM), he has carved out a reputation as a foe of due process, but he surprised almost everyone this past spring by suggesting that he had knowledge of between eight and thirteen cases in which a male student was brought up on sexual assault claims on the basis of weak or non-existent evidence. In “a lot of these cases,” a NCHERM document noted, “the campus is holding the male accountable in spite of the evidence—or lack thereof—because they think they are supposed to, and that doing so is what OCR wants.”

At the same time, Sokolow has proved almost wholly unconcerned with the relationship between these unjust outcomes and procedures that tilt heavily in the favor of the accuser. Even as he recognized a surge in dubious convictions, he praised the OCR’s due process-unfriendly “Dear Colleague” letter. And last week, he curiously attacked FIRE’s efforts to achieve procedural fairness in campus sexual assault cases. Sokolow charged that FIRE’s criticism of OCR’s mandate that colleges use a preponderance-of-evidence in sexual assault cases reflected a “one-sided role in the gender wars.” Why? Because using anything other than a 50.01 percent level of certainty “only [emphasis added] protects those who would sexually assault others.”

Tell that to Caleb Warner, the former University of North Dakota student. He was  found culpable for sexual assault under a preponderance threshold—even as his accuser was charged by police with filing a false report. It’s hard to imagine UND would have falsely branded him a rapist if it had used a clear-and-convincing threshold. It’s also hard to imagine that someone who has conceded that students are being improperly found culpable, as Sokolow has, could similarly suggest that colleges having a threshold with a 75% certainty of guilt “only” protects rapists.

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Pseudo-Philosopher Turns Out to Be Plagiarist

Slavoj Žižek is “the world’s hippest philosopher,” according to the UK’s Telegraph. Indeed, the Slovenian-born philosopher has won over adoring fans by combining references to Hegel, Freud, popular culture, and warmed-over postmodernism, and calling it philosophy. His stature is such that students can take classes on his thought and professors can contribute to a peer-reviewed journal devoted to “Žižek studies” and attend yearly conferences on the topic.

He’s also a plagiarist. A blogger recently found that Žižek lifted passages from a book review that appeared in the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance.

As befits a global celebrity, Žižek’s disciples have rushed to his defense.  At Slate Magazine, Rebecca Schuman meekly disputed Žižek’s defense of “lifting Hornbeck’s ‘purely informative’ summary” (the original source).  She understood his predicament: “Famous academics have their minions do their dirty work all the time. And most of these minions are legitimate scholars who would not steal someone else’s words . . . . So when one of them says, ‘Sure, you can use this verbatim,’ Žižek has no reason not to do just that.”

This defense is laughable. Žižek did not quote the passages in question “verbatim,” nor did he forget to insert quotation marks. Much like the harried freshmen I’ve observed, he made changes by switching words and phrases.  Had he been caught doing so as a student, his punishment would’ve ranged from a failing grade for the assignment to expulsion.

Other devotees defend Žižek in post-modernist terms. Hollis Phelps, assistant professor of religion at the University of Mount Olive, claimed that “our publication practices and expectations haven’t caught up” with the postmodern project–which is “the death of the author, the inexistence of the subject, the collective production of knowledge, intertextuality, networks of information, and so on.”

In other words, once we “catch up” to the post-modern notions of collective knowledge and collective responsibility, plagiarism will cease to exist.  In this context, then, Žižek is just ahead of his time.

Needed: Independent-Minded Trustees

Trustees shouldn’t step too far out of line, says Richard D. Legon, the President of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, in a recent piece for Inside Higher Ed.  Legon refers to the case of Wallace Hall, the University of Texas regent who investigated corruption in the UT system by requesting troves of public records. He now faces impeachment in the Texas Legislature. To Legon, Hall erred because “board governance is a team sport.”

Individual board members should ask tough questions. And different trustees bring different knowledge, skills, and interests to the boardroom, so they will necessarily seek out different kinds of information.  “Team player” is a slippery term that includes trustees who work hard to build consensus and those who simply enjoy a cushy perch. The former is admirable; the latter undermine American higher education. When administrations aren’t forthcoming, trustees are not obligated to take a “no” for the “team.” Public university trustees do not, ultimately, serve the “team”—the board or the administration. They serve the public. That’s why trustees who question the status quo deserve support—not impeachment.

In the Hall case the legislature appears to be pursuing a vendetta against a trustee who discovered damaging information about the university’s powerful, politically-connected president. At least one of the legislators who led the charge to investigate Hall was implicated in scandals that Hall uncovered.

Trustees should be encouraged to seek out the information they need to pursue their duties. They should insist on high standards. Public authorities should hold them to high standards, too—and make trustees’ continued service contingent on meeting those standards.

Mr. Legon’s go-along, get-along approach to board leadership leads weakens higher education.  ACTA’s approach, which emphasizes engaged, active, accountable boards, turns institutions around and leads them to excellence.   If American higher education is to regain its place as the “envy of the world,” team sport trusteeship must make way for trustees with an individual sense of conscience.

Harvard Joins the Ivy League’s Race to the Bottom

The issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 triggered a race to the bottom for due process in the Ivy League. The contest began with Yale, which adopted a new sexual assault policy that prevented accused students from presenting evidence of innocence in “informal” complaints and redefined the concept beyond recognition in formal complaints. The race then moved to Cornell, whose policy was so unfriendly to due process that it aroused intense (but ignored) public opposition from the university’s law faculty. Brown was next, with administrators boasting about their desire to keep lawyers out. The latest entrant is Harvard, where students will be greeted by a new policy when they return to school this fall.

Harvard’s plan—which is disturbingly opaque in several key respects—contains many of the due process-unfriendly procedures that have come to dominate the post-“Dear Colleague” letter landscape. Students will be branded rapists based on a “preponderance-of-evidence” (50.01 percent) threshold, even as the accused student will receive virtually none of the protections available in civil litigation, which uses the same standard. In the college version of double jeopardy, accusers can appeal a not-guilty finding. And undergraduate students accused of sexual assault can’t use an attorney in the disciplinary hearing. But the Harvard policy goes beyond OCR’s requirements in multiple respects.

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More on the Flap at the U. of Wisconsin

Does the University of Wisconsin-Madison have a plan to introduce diversity in grading—making sure that African Americans, Hispanics and other non-Asian minorities get the same proportion of good marks as whites and Asians? No. “Nothing could be further from the truth,’ said Professor Patrick Sims, UW Chief Diversity Officer and interim Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate. “Regrettably, Hansen’s assertion that the campus’s most recent strategic diversity framework embraces a quota system for apportioning grades by race, is a gross misrepresentation of our current efforts.”

That comment was in response to an article by emeritus Professor W. Lee Hansen, pointing to this definition of “Representational Equity” in the “Inclusive Excellence” diversity framework: “Proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.” Hansen did not say that the controversial definition was in the new diversity plan. He wrote that “unbeknownst to faculty senators” voting on the plan, five goals and recommendations were based on the old plan–the UW System Inclusive Excellence framework, which contained the definition of “representational equity.” It seems clear that UW is broadly supporting “Inclusive Excellence.” Here is a webpage of the UW System, containing the grading-quota definition and carrying the copyright of the UW Regents. In a message to colleagues and campus officials, Professor Donald Downs, who differed with Hansen in an essay here, wrote that the definition has not been endorsed by the university, “but the wording is lurking out there in the system, and the diversity chair has pointed to it. So we are right that it has not been formalized, adopted, or even encouraged. But it has some presence in the system, and this must not be.”