By Nick Coltrain at The Coloradoan
Public universities should be able to use lower standards of evidence when deciding to expel students accused of sexual assault, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said at a Thursday hearing in Washington, D.C.
Polis, speaking at a higher education subcommittee meeting on preventing and responding to sexual assault on college campus, suggested creating a lower legal standard of evidence for public universities than currently used.
“I mean, if there’s 10 people that have been accused and, under a reasonable likelihood standard, maybe one or two did it, seems better to get rid of all 10 people,” said Polis, a Democrat whose district includes Colorado State University and University of Colorado, as well as Fort Collins. “We’re not talking about depriving them of life or liberty, we’re talking about their transfer to another university, for crying out loud.”
Joseph Cohn, legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, was testifying before the committee that current standards of a preponderance of evidence — a more lenient standard than used in criminal trials — could fail a constitutional due process test, depending on circumstances. Without a change in law, Polis’ proposed reasonable likelihood of guilt wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving, he said.
In a statement, Polis communications director Kristin Lynch said the congressman was making the point that protecting against sexual assault and ensuring the safest campuses possible is a No. 1 priority.
“We’re happy to debate that with anyone and, to be frank, it’s disappointing that some are casually dismissing the basic premise that universities have the responsibility to go beyond criminal law in protecting students from sexual assault,” Lynch wrote. “… Jared believes unequivocally that as a matter of campus safety, students attending college deserve the security of knowing that they aren’t sharing classrooms and dorms with peers who are likely to have committed sexual assault.”
CSU spokesperson Mike Hooker wrote in a statement that the university has the ability to hold students accountable for violations to its student conduct code and trained staff reviews the cases individually. It also would likely deny an applicant that was found responsible for sexual assault at another university.
“Colorado State University strives to create an environment that is supportive to the survivors of sexual assault,” Hooker wrote in a statement. “In doing so, we focus on helping survivors feel empowered and safe in reporting, which can help the university gather important information about the incident that can aid us in holding students suspected of sexual assault accountable through our university process as well as through the legal process.”
In the 2014-15 academic year, eight students went through CSU’s judicial process for accusations of non-consensual sexual contact or assault and seven were held responsible. Hooker said federal law prevents disclosing the individual disciplinary actions, but that CSU may remove students found responsible for breaking its code of conduct.