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ACTA President Anne Neal Talks Campus Sexual Assault on ‘PBS NewsHour’

By August 12, 2014

Two pieces of legislation on campus sexual assault introduced in the Senate late last month continue to inspire debate on the issue of how colleges and universities should handle allegations of sexual assault—and whether institutions of higher education are properly equipped to be adjudicating such cases at all. In a recent interview with Hari Sreenivasan on PBS NewsHour, Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), argued that sexual assault should be handled by the criminal justice system rather than colleges.

In the interview, Neal describes the “shadow justice systems” maintained by colleges:

[W]e have a system which has investigators trained on college campuses, bureaucracies that are envisioned by this legislation that would require folks on our university campuses essentially to be investigators, jurors, executioners.

They’re the ones that are going to be looking into alleged violations. And what we’re saying is that colleges and universities are many things and they have many expertise, but engaging in law enforcement is not one of them, and that’s why it’s so important that we insist that the alleged victims report their problems to law enforcement, and that the university make it very clear that that is where the onus lies.

Sreenivasan cues up a clip in which Senator Kelly Ayotte, one of the sponsors of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, calls the practice of university athletic departments investigating incidents involving student-athletes “totally inappropriate.” Neal agrees, pointing out that Senator Ayotte’s concerns underscore her point that “colleges and universities are not equipped to do good investigations and essentially to be asked to be law enforcement officials.”

As FIRE has argued often, campus hearings often lack many of the procedural safeguards meant not just to ensure that accused students are granted due process but also that the results of those hearings are fair, accurate, and reliable. Just as athletic departments lack the expertise and impartiality to properly investigate serious crimes like sexual assault, so too do other university departments.

For more of Neal’s thoughts, read the transcript or listen to the interview on PBS NewsHour’s website.