Due Process at Brown University? At All?

By on October 11, 2011

Last year The New York Times quoted me in a story about William McCormick III, a former student at Brown University who has sued Brown in federal court, claiming the university failed to give him even the minimal due process it promises in cases like his. According to McCormick, Brown basically just sent him home after a fellow student accused him of rape and her very wealthy father, Richard Dresdale (a Brown alumnus and donor), intervened. McCormick is also suing Dresdale, who, McCormick claims, procured a settlement agreement under duress ("the implied threat of false criminal rape charges") that was designed to keep the whole thing a big secret. In addition, one court document states:

In the Agreement, William further promises that he will voluntarily withdraw as a student from Brown, he will never attend any another school that [his accuser] attends, he will not come within one thousand (1000) feet of [his accuser], he will not enter the City of Providence so long as [his accuser] is a student at Brown, and he will undergo neurological testing, psychological counseling, and successfully complete a course of instruction on sensitivity to women.

The case is in the news again this week because a federal judge has ordered Brown to produce fundraising documents pertaining to Dresdale.

Meanwhile, FIRE has been checking into some of the due process protections for students who are accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment at Brown and other universities nationwide. One of our findings is that Brown uses the lowest standard of evidence among the top 100 U.S. colleges and universities (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report). It is bad enough that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) earlier this year mandated the lowest possible standard of proof, "preponderance of the evidence" (or a 50.01% standard), which threatens students’ due process rights and forces most of the Ivy League schools to lower their standards and, accordingly, their accuracy in such cases. (FIRE has explained this problem at length.) But even worse, Brown’s policy doesn’t even go for a standard of proof; it has gone lower. Brown requires only a "reasonable basis" for a finding of guilt in these cases, even if the majority of the evidence is on the other side.

No wonder Brown has a lot of explaining to do.

Schools: Brown University