Yesterday, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times argued that in cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct at a college or university, “[t]he rights of the accuser and the rights of the accused must be protected equally.” In the editorial, the board takes a careful and balanced look at the stakes and why the status quo in campus sexual misconduct hearings is not enough to protect either party.
The editorial board first posits that universities have been burdened with a job they are unequipped to handle:
[A]ddressing sexual assault is complicated. Schools are not law enforcement agencies; they’re not set up to conduct investigations or hold trials or render verdicts, yet they are required to do so under federal law.
The board emphasizes that procedural safeguards for both the accuser and the accused are critically important in improving the campus disciplinary system:
The rights of the accuser and the rights of the accused must be protected equally. Both should have the same opportunities to present witnesses and evidence, to have lawyers and to appeal, among other things. These hearings can result in a student being expelled, a severe punishment that can cripple a person for years.
FIRE commends the Times for acknowledging these essential elements of due process. Though students at public institutions in North Carolina have been granted the right to hire an attorney in non-academic cases, students across the country regularly are left to defend themselves against their schools, which often have their own attorneys involved. And particularly with colleges using a low standard of proof in these hearings—the “preponderance of the evidence” standard—it is critically important that the accused student be competently represented.
Read the rest of this excellent editorial in the Los Angeles Times.