Wendy Kaminer Pillories Duke’s Sexual Misconduct Policy in ‘The Atlantic’

By on April 13, 2010

Celibacy is probably not a feasible option for most undergraduates, but students at Duke University may want to consider it anyway.

Such is the assessment of author, lawyer, and FIRE Board of Advisors member Wendy Kaminer in her most recent blog entry for The Atlantic. Kaminer is ridiculing Duke University’s troubling sexual misconduct policy, and she’s issued one of the best critiques of the policy to appear in the days since FIRE went public with its concerns at Duke.

As FIRE has done at length, Kaminer also draws attention to the many inequities in Duke’s policy which stack the deck against those accused of sexual offenses, calling it "especially shameful, given the university’s complicity in the wrongful and malicious 2006 indictment of three lacrosse players (and public vilification of the team) for a rape that never occurred." 

In addition to her blunt and damning legal assessment of the policy, Kaminer has harsh words for the intellectual perfect storm that, as she sees it, "engendered the repressive speech and harassment codes that flourish on so many campuses today." (For more on her scholarly criticisms of this figment of the academy, read her keynote address from last year’s Campus Freedom Network conference.)

Still, her sharpest words are for Duke University:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is challenging Duke’s policy (you can find the policy and FIRE’s critique of it here).   But I suspect that university administrators will only respond to complaints by alumni and other donors.  Duke seems unrepentant about collaborating in the persecution of its lacrosse players and apparently takes pride in its sexual misconduct policy.  It’s supposed to reflect university values — "honesty, fairness, respect, and accountability" — in the interests of promoting "healthy interpersonal relationships."  The policy states that "Duke University is committed to providing an environment free of personal affronts against individuals… " 

That is a dystopian goal, especially at a university.  Intellectual debate cannot thrive, individual liberty cannot survive, and "healthy sexual relationships" cannot develop in a university that seeks to eradicate "personal affronts."  Besides, I doubt Duke’s commitment to protecting all members of its community from "affronts."  I bet there are students, faculty members, and alums who are deeply affronted by the sexual misconduct policy.  I hope all of them protest it vigorously and some vote against it with their pocketbooks; or, resisting the lessons of its own recent history, Duke may continue to take pride in repeating it.

As Robert noted earlier, Duke has largely failed to respond to FIRE’s myriad concerns about the policy, essentially saying, "don’t call us, we’ll call you." Yet, as Kaminer hopes in her article, several Duke alumni have told us that they have voted against the policy "with their pocketbooks." Duke alumni and other concerned citizens can write their own letters to Brodhead here.

Thanks to Wendy Kaminer for another incisive article on student rights.

Schools: Duke University Cases: Duke University: Overbroad and Unjust Sexual Misconduct Policy