The Growing Sexual-Assault Investigations Industry

In response to questions from the Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow, a spokesperson for Iowa senator Charles Grassley made a telling admission that has received insufficient attention. “The university,” the spokesperson noted, “will be responsible for any new requirements in the bill and be responsible to find the funds within its budget, whether that be from an endowment, trimming administration costs, tuition, or any other area.” The spokesperson did not indicate how many new faculty lines should be sacrificed or how much of a tuition increase students should bear so that colleges can construct a parallel criminal investigations system, albeit one with many fewer due process protections for accused students and a much lower threshold of guilt.

It turns out that the financial pressure is starting on colleges even before the McCaskill-Grassley bill has cleared Congress. Inside Higher Ed recently reported that “a cottage industry is growing around campus sexual assault.” Some of these developments are benign or even helpful, such as a fingernail polish designed to detect date rape drugs, a product designed by UNC students (and oddly attacked by some ideologues as contributing to “rape culture”).

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Another Study Fails to Justify Affirmative Action

There’s nothing wrong with the first sentence of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s new report, “Affirmative Action and Human Capital Development,” which defines affirmative action as “the practice of granting preferential treatment to under-represented (UR) demographic groups,” but it’s down hill from there. The descent begins in the second sentence, which states that “It was first mandated by the Kennedy Administration in the 1950s….”

Of course there was no Kennedy Administration in the 1950s, and the affirmative action required by Executive Order 11925 — issued by President Kennedy March 6, 1961— not only did not mandate but actually prohibited preferential treatment by requiring government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin” [emphasis added].

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Trustees Must Act, Report Says

A group chaired by CUNY Board of Trustees chairman Benno Schmidt recently published a report entitled, “Governance for a New Era.” (I was part of the group, which included a variety of trustees, presidents, administrators, and faculty members.) The report, which has received considerable attention, urges trustees (and, working under the direction of trustees, senior administrators) to fulfill their oversight role—in the process providing a necessary check and balance too often absent in today’s universities.

The report’s basic premise: principles of shared governance and academic freedom require trustees—no less than administrators and faculty members—to do their jobs. Trustees, in short, need to provide active, effective leadership—and meaningful, not toothless, oversight. And in increasingly politicized public universities, only trustees serve as the voice of the taxpayers who help fund the institution. Indeed, at public schools that rely on political support, effective trustee oversight sometimes can save the faculty from themselves.

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The Frenzy Over “Rape Culture” Grows

Examiner

Scheming politicians, opportunists, and grifters have latched onto the recent panic over a supposed “rape culture” on college campuses to clamp down on activities having nothing to do with rape. In some cases, they have imposed regulations that take away student opportunities and harm small businesses.

Never mind that, as Wikipedia recently noted, there has been a steady decline in rape rates for all age groups over the last two decades, and data “from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics” show a “58%” overall reduction from “1995 to 2010.” With enough fear, you can manufacture a crisis, and a crisis gives you “an opportunity to do things . . . you could not do before,” as President Obama’s former chief of staff noted in his famous remarks about not letting a crisis “go to waste.”

As the Cato Institute’s Walter Olson notes, small businesses have suffered from “Maryland’s grain alcohol ban,” passed in the name of preventing campus sexual assault, which has “tripped up violin restorers, cake pros,” and “craft bitters folk,” judging from a recent Washington Post story. For example, “violin makers in Maryland depend on 190-proof grain alcohol to create varnishes used in making and restoring their instruments. . .The craftsman dissolves the resin in Everclear because, with its high alcohol content, it dries resins quickly, so the already tedious process can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time.” “There’s really nothing else that works,” said Silver Spring violin maker Howard Needham.

At Free State Notes, Olson discussed the spurious campus “‘sexual assault’rationale” that “is behind the new grain alcohol ban,” and how “tax dollars have enabled” the “crusades” against it that led to the ban. As Michelle Mintonnoted in the Baltimore Sun in July, “Maryland banned high-proof liquors like Everclear and other inexpensive tipples” after activists funded by taxpayers (and effectively rewarded for their alarmism) “claimed such ‘high octane’ liquors increased the likelihood of binge-drinking and sexual assaults on college campuses.”

Meanwhile, Columbia University has canceled a popular concert over sexual assault fears. “A popular, twice-a-year concert at Columbia University has been put out to pasture after administrators [worried] that the event was causing sexual assaults at the school. . .The abrupt cancellation will cost the school over $55,000 in payouts . . . to artists scheduled to attend. . . .There had been specific complaints about Bacchanal in the past, with a student penning an op-ed for the school newspaper last spring complaining about alleged sexual harassment that she experienced” at the concert.

The Obama administration has taken advantage of this climate of fear and panic to order colleges to drop longstanding procedural norms in campus disciplinary hearings (such as the clear-and-convincing evidence standard, which most Ivy League colleges used for disciplinary hearings of all types until 2011, when the Obama administration ordered them to use a lower standard for sexual harassment and assault cases. The administration also recently discouraged them from allowing cross-examination by accused students, even though the Supreme Court has described cross-examination as the “greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.”).

Recently, politicians like Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) proposed a “Campus Accountability and Safety Act” that would menace due process by giving the Education Department’s Office for Rights a financial incentive to find colleges guilty of mishandling or misreporting sexual assaults (I discussed that bill here). As The College Fix notes, The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities has also raised concerns about the provision:

“The association notes that the Department of Education would have a perverse incentive to punish universities: ‘The U.S. Department of Education would be responsible for pursuing cases against universities and the revenue from penalties would all go to the Department, which creates undue incentive and may invite a bounty mindset. Two separate provisions in the bill each call for non-compliance penalties of up to 1 percent of an institution’s operating budget. This means an institution could face penalties of up to 2 percent of its operating budget. There are additional financial penalties elsewhere as well.”

Rape is now, and always has been, a serious problem, but it is not a mushrooming “epidemic” that justifies violations of fundamental due process norms.

Anti-Israel Campus Activists Could Learn Something from George Bush

In a speech delivered to a joint session of Congress fewer than two weeks after September 11th, the much maligned President Bush repeatedly distinguished between the radical Muslims who had attacked us and Muslims in general. Toward the end of the speech, he reminded Americans not to single out Arabs or Muslims for the actions of a fringe: “We’re in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

I was reminded of this statement as I read an account of an attack on a Jewish student at Temple yesterday. Almost everything about this incident is in dispute, and we’ll have to wait and see what an investigation reveals. What is not in dispute is this: in front of a table run by Students for Justice in Palestine, during an argument about Israel, one “pro-Palestinian” student, hit another, Jewish “pro-Israel” student.

In response to this incident, Students for Justice in Palestine has denied “right wing” charges of antisemitism and insisted that their “opposition to all forms of structural racism” includes antisemitism. Although Vassar College’s SJP clearly crossed the line into antisemitism last year, I see no reason not to believe that the vast majority of SJP student members reject antisemitism sincerely and vigorously. I just wish this acknowledgement were not always uttered from a defensive crouch, coupled with the charge, or at least the implication, that antisemitism is largely the invention of a hysterical or calculating pro-Israel right wing.

As Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt reminded us yesterday, antisemitism is on the rise in Europe and was on the rise before the most recent Gaza conflict. In Germany, we actually have demonstrators chanting “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!” Lipsdadt says that “instead of explaining away these actions, cultural, religious and academic leaders in all the countries where these events have occurred should be shaken to the core, not just about the safety of their Jewish neighbors, but about the future of the seemingly liberal, enlightened societies they belong to.”

In making its denunciation of antisemitism an afterthought in a statement directly responding to accusations of antisemitism, the SJP students merely follow the lead of movement leaders whose college days are long behind them. So, although large numbers of Jews have considered leaving Europe, and although there is no question that synagogues have been targeted by anti-Israel forces, anti-Zionist outlets like Mondoweiss have concentrated almost entirely on looking for holes in whatever stories of antisemitism they can question. Another strategy is to concede the existence of antisemitism but blame it on Israel’s defenders. As Steven Salaita, the professor who may have lost his University of Illinois job offer over the stridency of his anti-Israel comments tweeted:  “by eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.”

William Jacobson, whose story on the Temple incident I have linked to, predicts that anti-Israel sentiment on campus will be much more intense this year and that some of it will lead to violence. And although being anti-Israel is analytically distinct from being anti-Jewish, experience tells us that anti-Israel activism will sometimes cross the line into antisemitism. It would be nice, and might even help, if leaders of the anti-Israel movement on our campuses were to take the lead in conceding the threats of violence and antisemitism and get out in front of those threats, rather than mentioning antisemitism only when they are in damage control mode. It is time they learned a lesson from President Bush.