Jared Polis Retreats On A Very Bad Idea

September 16, 2015

By The Denver Pot Editorial Board at The Denver Post

Colorado Rep. Jared Polis has repudiated his startling remarks last week on how colleges and universities should handle accusations of sexual assault — and has done so, thankfully, without reservation.

“That was a bizarre hypothetical line of argument,” he told us Wednesday of his off-the-cuff comments at a House hearing.

“I am certainly a supporter of due process,” he added. “I don’t believe innocent kids should be expelled from universities.”

His remarks had left the opposite impression.

“I mean, if there’s 10 people that have been accused and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people,” the Boulder Democrat said at House hearing. “We’re not talking about depriving them of life or liberty, we’re talking about their transfer to another university.”

Polis says he regrets his comments have overshadowed an important debate over how universities should handle accusations of sexual assault. Should they be delegated exclusively to police or should institutions also try to ascertain the probable guilt of an accused student for possible expulsion?

Polis believes colleges have a duty to respond on their own to create a safe environment and supports a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which is lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt” and means the accusations are more likely true than not.

He’s right that schools shouldn’t wash their hands of accusations on the theory that they’re a concern solely for police. For example, they need to make sure victims feel secure and don’t have to live or attend classes in proximity to their alleged assailant.

If institutions are going to try to determine the guilt of students outside the legal system, however, they still need to provide procedural protections for the accused.

Joseph Cohn, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) who was testifying at the time of Polis’ original comments, explained why in a later blog post.

“For decades,” Cohn wrote, “courts have held that matriculated students must not be deprived of their right to attend an educational institution without first being provided meaningful due process protections.”

Cohn’s group maintains that colleges, prodded by the federal government, are increasingly dismantling protections for the accused in an effort to be sensitive to their accusers — with the result being a number of credible lawsuits from students who say they were railroaded.

There is no question a constituency exists, unfortunately, for denying due process. After all, when Polis suggested that even the innocent be expelled in an effort to corral the guilty, the hearing audience didn’t gasp. It applauded.

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