Editorial: OCR guilty of lowering conviction standards

September 1, 2011

Attention all college students and parents:

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights recently changed the standards for how all claims of sexual assault on campus are to be resolved.

According to the OCR, colleges and universities must lower their evidentiary standards to make prosecutions easier and convictions more likely.

So now instead of needing “clear and convincing” evidence of guilt to convict the accused, colleges must adopt a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, or risk being sued by the federal government.

The goal here is increase the number of students convicted for such alleged conduct and thereby, they hope, decrease the number of such incidents on campus.

Last spring, while speaking at the University of New Hampshire, Vice President Joe Biden decried the “epidemic” of sexual assault on college campuses right about the same time OCR notifying was universities of its new standards.

Whether there is an actual “epidemic” of such assaults is open to question.

According to the FBI preliminary crime statistics, the number of forcible rapes in this country has been trending down for years. In 2010 the number declined another 4.4 percent.

To believe, as OCR does, that one in five college students will be victim of a sexual assault during their college years, is something of a stretch.

Activists in this area claim that sex crimes are woefully under reported in part because victims can’t be sure they will be believed or blame themselves what happened to them. There is, no doubt, some truth to this.

But lowering the standards by which they will convict those accused of such awful behavior is frightful in and of itself.

There are serious due process questions here. Already on most college campuses protections that any criminal defendant can take for granted are routinely denied to college students accused of sexual assault. The accused has no right to an attorney, no right to face his accuser and no right to “a presumption of innocence” or acquittal based on “reasonable doubt.”

The Philadelphia-based Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has raised serious questions about OCR’s demands, but so far few colleges seem to have openly questioned the new marching orders they have received from Washington.

But Heather MacDonald at the Manhattan Institute is certainly willing to:

… The sexual revolution and the disappearance of adult moral authority on campus have resulted in a booze-filled sexual free-for-all, in which testosterone-charged boys act boorishly, and the girls compete to match them in reckless promiscuity….”

Encouraging more young women to think of themselves as victims and not responsible for their own conduct seems to be the actual goal of this project.

There are no easy ways to change the sort of campus culture Ms. MacDonald describes but lowering the standard by which young men can be prosecuted, found guilty and expelled seems hardly the right way to go.

Cases: U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights April 4, 2011, Guidance Letter Reduces Due Process Protections