Carroll: CU’s Troubling Settlement In Sexual Misconduct Case

March 7, 2015

By Vincent Carroll at The Denver Post

The next time the University of Colorado finds itself sued by a male student disciplined for sexual misconduct, let’s hope it chooses one of two courses. Either fight the lawsuit tooth and nail to vindicate the university, or acknowledge that it failed to treat the student fairly and pledge to reform its disciplinary process.

In settling a lawsuit recently by a student who claimed CU violated his civil rights when it suspended him for three semesters after finding him guilty of sexual assault, the university chose neither course.

Instead, it settled the case on terms that appear favorable to the student. Although he agreed to withdraw, CU will pay him, according to the Daily Camera, “$15,000 and will not disclose without a waiver the details of his disciplinary record.” CU will protect his identity and provide him with a positive reference, too.

In the agreement, CU officials conceded that “in response to any question about whether Mr. Doe would be welcome back to the university, the university will respond in the affirmative. In response to any question about Mr. Doe’s academic standing at the university during his tenure there, the university will respond, ‘Prior to his withdrawal, Mr. Doe was a student in good academic standing.'”

And since the student served out his suspension, that fact will not appear on his transcript.

Needless to say, his attorneys are delighted. They maintained that CU stacks the deck against those accused of sexual assault and gives short shrift to due process — a claim CU strongly rejects. But then why such a deal?

As attorney Samantha Harris at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote caustically after the agreement, “There are only two possible scenarios here, and they both look incredibly bad for the university.

“Scenario 1: CU does not actually think that Doe is a sexual offender or any kind of threat to other students, but it subjected him to an unfair process and found him responsible because it was under pressure from a federal investigation by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) into its sexual misconduct policies and practices. …

“Scenario 2: CU does think that Doe is a sexual offender and has nevertheless agreed — by promising him a positive reference and agreeing to remain vague about his disciplinary record — to make it easier for him to go someplace else (and possibly commit another offense) in order to make this lawsuit go away.”

A CU spokesman told me the university denies liability and stands by its code of conduct procedures. “We settled this case because we have a responsibility to prudently manage the university’s resources and felt it was best to minimize litigation and defense costs,” CU said.

It also maintains that the student “will still have to disclose his suspension if he applies to other universities.”

Well, he might have to if he is asked — and many universities do inquire about disciplinary and criminal histories. But that assumes he’ll be honest. And even if he is, he gets to characterize what happened since CU has agreed, if asked about his disciplinary record, to merely indicate he “was found to have violated two code provisions” — with no hint of what they were.

This deal looks bad, for the reasons Harris outlined. Managing CU’s resources should also include protecting it from inevitable suspicions that it is pushing a sexual predator onto another institution or is indifferent to a miscarriage of justice.

Schools: University of Colorado at Boulder