The Times Gets “Affirmative Consent” Wrong

The Times and the Nation have both published articles on California’s “affirmative consent” bill, the litigator’s dream signed into law Sunday by Governor Jerry Brown. One piece was responsible journalism; the other was agitprop. Given that Richard Pérez-Peña co-authored the Times article, it’s not hard to guess which was agitprop.

The new California law requires colleges to weaken due process protections for accused students in two ways. First, it mandates that all schools in the state use the “preponderance-of-evidence” standard (without ensuring that accused students have all the protections of civil litigants, with which preponderance-of-evidence is usually associated). It’s true that the current OCR has demanded this standard, but the law ensures that even if the federal government subsequently changes its mind, the threshold will remain in California.

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Salaita and the Missing Trustee Oversight

A few weeks ago, I commented on a recent report shepherded through by Benno Schmidt, chairman of the CUNY Board of Trustees, on the need for a heftier trustee role in university governance. (I co-signed the report and strongly endorse its conclusions.) The report covered considerable ground, but some of its most thought-provoking recommendations involved personnel matters.

Regarding the faculty, the report touched on two areas where trustees need to play a more active role to fulfill the checks and balances necessary for a system of shared governance. First, the report envisioned a more robust role by trustees in ensuring basic elements of pedagogical or intellectual diversity on campus. The problem is most apparent in U.S. history, where the past generation’s pattern at too many departments has been to exclude or revise beyond recognition areas deemed too “traditional,” such as political, constitutional, diplomatic, or military history. But the issue has emerged in some departments of English, Sociology, and Political science as well.

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California Sets a Bad Precedent

Government’s intrusion into our bedrooms continues apace. Yesterday California Governor Jerry Brown signed California’s “affirmative consent” bill, which requires “each person involved in the sexual activity” to obtain explicit agreement from his or her partner to engage in said activity. If colleges don’t adopt this policy, they’ll become ineligible for state student financial aid. Though many mocked Antioch College for its 1993 policy requiring students to provide explicit consent at “each stage of intimacy,” it turns out the school was ahead of its time. Expect many more states, and possibly the federal government, to follow suit.

Joke Imitates Life

By way of background for you outside-the-beltway rubes, the Washington Post’s weekly “Style Invitational” is a contest in which readers compete to submit the funniest entry.  This week the winners were announced for the funniest (made up) course description from a college catalogue.  First-place was awarded to:  “PSYC 207: Welcome to Your College Nightmare. Participants will not be notified of their enrollment in this class until the morning of the final exam. Note: Class location is subject to weekly change without notice; each student will attend at least one class session in the nude.”

Very good, but the reason for this post is to note the entry that won second place:  “SOC 101: Overcoming Prejudice. In this course, you will learn to identify and overcome the various prejudices — racism, sexism, classism, etc. — that all people like you have.”

Of course, the really funny (and sad) thing is that, while it might be described slightly (but only slightly) differently, my sense is that this is not at all an uncommon, let alone a fictional, offering.

Kudos to the Post, by the way, for its willingness to make a politically incorrect award, even if it was rather clueless in its apparent failure to see that too many academics and students won’t get the joke.

‘Date-Rape Nail Polish’—Mocked But Not So Foolish

Four undergraduates at North Carolina State University announced in August that they had developed a “date-rape nail polish” that would change color when its wearer dipped her finger into a drink doctored with “roofies” (Rohypnol) and other sedatives that can cause people to black out or otherwise be unable to defend themselves against unwanted sexual advances.

For their troubles in producing what they called “Undercover Colors,” the four were subjected to a relentless onslaught of criticism and ridicule from the feminist press.  Jessica Valenti’s column in the U.K. Guardian was typical: “Prevention tips or products that focus on what women do or wear aren’t just ineffective, they leave room for victim-blaming when those steps aren’t taken.” The idea seemed to be that giving women some common-sense advice or an easy-to-use product that would help them avoid being victims of a horrendous crime amounts to facilitating “rape culture.”

But now it appears that an application of Undercover Colors might have actually helped prevent a troubling incident at a recent University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fraternity party after which at least three young women were hospitalized reporting blackouts, memory lapses, disorientation, and sky-high levels of intoxication. One of the women told news reporters that she had experienced a “weird feeling and sensation” before she passed out. Another said that a fraternity member at the Tau Kappa Epsilon house had mixed her a drink, and then briefly hidden her cup underneath the bar before handing it to her. Other people attending the party reported that the vodka drinks served at the party looked “cloudy.” When the police raided the party at 1:20 a.m., they discovered that many of the females in attendance had red “X”’s drawn on their hands by fraternity brothers, while other partygoers’ hands bore black “X’s” Police seem to suspect that a red “X” might have target the women for date-rape drugs and are currently investigating whether the drinks were spiked with roofies.

Yes, the administration of drugs to facilitate sexual assault is apparently rare. One study performed during the 1990s found that roofies played a role in only 1 percent of date rapes. Yet if the reprehensible events alleged to have occurred at the Tau Kappa Epsilon are proved true, three young women could have avoided hospitalization via Undercover Colors and many others might have been prompted to leave before they got sick, too. Obviously date-rape nail polish won’t prevent men from trying to commit sexual assaults—but it has the potential to prevent at least some women from harm. That doesn’t sound too ridiculous.