Baylor’s Failure Exposes Flaws in Campus Sexual Assault Adjudication

June 3, 2016

A recent report detailing Baylor University’s mishandling of campus sexual assault allegations against its football players has rocked the institution to its core. The report, issued last week, led the institution’s Board of Regents to fire head football coach Art Briles and to demote President Ken Starr, who subsequently resigned as the university’s chancellor yesterday.

Surprisingly, some observers have cited the events at Baylor as evidence that colleges and universities should be handling campus sexual assault allegations. But as Reason’s Robby Soave effectively points out, the Baylor case is actually a powerful demonstration of precisely why it’s a mistake to rely on these institutions to fulfill a role traditionally delegated to the criminal justice system.

Soave writes:

As slow and awful as the criminal justice system is—and there’s specific evidence the Waco police screwed up here too—there’s just no reason to expect poorly-trained university administrators to handle these things better, and lots of reasons to expect them to behave even worse. Baylor is an example of this very phenomenon: The school evidently cared more about its football team than about justice for victims. While it’s possible Baylor can be reformed, why on earth would we hold up this model—the administrative investigation model—as superior to courts?

Often, the argument that investigations and adjudications of sex crimes should be handled by law enforcement professionals and police has been misrepresented as an argument against colleges’ and universities’ involvement at all. But Soave explains that, to the contrary, institutions can do a lot—shy of investigating and adjudicating cases—to contribute to the solution:

It’s possible to believe that universities should do more to accommodate students involved in sexual assault disputes—provide them different housing options, for instance—without accepting the wholesale replacement of the criminal justice system with a frequently inept and unfair jury-by-educrat procedure. University-led adjudication might make life easier for some rape victims in the short term, but the public should want these accusations carefully vetted by trained professionals in the courts—not because the women are lying, but because we want charges against actual rapists to stick. It’s not enough to shuffle them around from campus to campus.

Soave is exactly right. FIRE has been making this argument for years, and I made the same case to Congress in a hearing last September.

Hopefully, lawmakers will recognize the wisdom of this commonsense approach by backing reforms to ensure that colleges play roles they are competent to perform, while leaving the criminal investigations and adjudications to the professionals.

The sad situation at Baylor perfectly illustrates why such reforms are necessary.

Schools:  Baylor University