The pendulum seems to be swinging back toward sanity on the campus sexual-assault front, where college administrators typically play prosecutor, jury, and executioner simultaneously.
A San Diego Superior Court judge has nullified the University of California-San Diego's suspension of a male student for allegedly forcing a female classmate to engage in sexual activities against her will in February 14, and also ordered the university to drop all other sanctions against the young man, known only in the court records as "John Doe."
It was a resounding victory for Doe. Not only did UC-San Diego fail to give him a fair hearing–he was prevented from confronting and cross-examining witnesses–but the university failed to offer enough evidence to support its finding that Doe had actually engaged in sexual misconduct, Judge Joel M. Pressman found.
From the report in the Los Angeles Times, the Doe case sounded like an all-too-typical combination of consensual sex gone awry and a campus administrator who responded vindictively when Doe tried to claim his procedural rights:
In the San Diego case, Doe met the accuser, identified as Jane Roe, at a party in January 2014 and began a sexual relationship later that month. Both sides agreed that at least some of the sex was consensual. But four months later, in June, Roe filed a complaint alleging three instances of sexual misconduct in late January and early February, all of which Doe denied.
Elena Acevedo Dalcourt, UC San Diego's campus complaint resolution officer, found insufficient evidence for two of the charges but determined that the third allegation of digital penetration without consent was valid.
In December, a university hearing panel affirmed those findings and recommended sanctions, including a one-quarter suspension, sexual harassment training and counseling. After Doe sent a letter of response to Dean Sherry L. Mallory, she increased the sanctions to a one-year suspension, which would have required him to reapply for admission to the campus, among other things.
In an opinion issued Friday, Pressman said the university failed to hold a fair trial because the official who headed the misconduct hearing asked Roe only nine of 32 questions submitted by Doe. Officials also improperly allowed Dalcourt's findings to be used in the hearing without allowing Doe to confront the complaint officer, who did not attend. Nor was Doe given access to any statements by 14 witnesses or Roe's own interview statements.
Pressman also found the university "abused its discretion" in increasing sanctions against Doe after he appealed without explaining why.
Now, the University of California is a public institution, which means that the U.S. Constitution's due-process guarantees protect students charged in campus proceedings. Private colleges, by contrast, seem to remain pretty much free to rig their sexual-assault hearings as they like–all in the compassionate of encouraging accusers to come forward. The mantra "women never like about rape" seems to be a procedural rule on many campuses. But lately there has been a healthy backlash. As the LAT notes:
The case is being watched nationally, as concern has grown that the intensified crackdown on campus sexual assault over the last few years has skewed too far against those accused, violating their due process rights. Last fall, 28 Harvard Law School faculty members published an opinion article condemning their campus procedures on sexual assault cases as lacking "the most basic elements of fairness and due process" and "overwhelmingly stacked against the accused."
So it's possible that Pressman's ruling, with its sweeping condemnations of manifestly unfair procedures on a public campus, may have some effect on the much-criticized way in which many private colleges handle sexual-assault charges as well.