By Elizabeth Hernandez at The Denver Post
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said Thursday that colleges should be able to use a lower standard of proof to expel students accused of sexual assaults on campus.
The Boulder Democrat’s remarks came at a congressional subcommittee meeting on higher education about preventing sexual assault on college campuses. ( Watch video here).
“If there are 10 people who 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,” Polis said. “We’re not talking about depriving them of life or liberty, we’re talking about them being transferred to another university, for crying out loud.”
A private college, Polis also argued, may want to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard or lower threshold, such as a “likelihood standard.”
“If I was running one I might say, well you know, even if there is only a 20 or 30 percent chance that it happened, I would want to remove this individual,” he said.
The audience at the hearing applauded his stance at one point, but the remark drew a sharp reaction from critics.
Joseph Cohn, a policy expert at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, responded that “due process is paramount.” He added that a “likelihood standard” would not “have any chance of satisfying a due process challenge.”
Polis, whose district includes the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State University, was not immediately available Thursday to elaborate on his comments. But his spokeswoman, Kristin Lynch, said Polis was making the point that the top priority when it comes to sexual assault on campus is to ensure the safest campus possible.
“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,” she said.
“There’s no stronger supporter for criminal due process than Jared – he’s spent six years in Congress advocating for fixing our broken drug laws and eliminating warrantless government searches and seizures,” she continued. ” But this debate doesn’t occur in the arena of our criminal justice system. We’re talking about educational institutions and the safety of their campuses.”
In response to criticism on Twitter, Polis clarified that “the standard for jail is and should remain beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In an interview Thursday with Reason.com, a libertarian-minded publication, Polis suggested if it was his son who was accused of a sexual assault, he would suggest he leave campus.
“If my son had a baseless accusation made against him at a university and it was making his life there miserable, I would suggest he transfer or take courses online,” Polis told the publication, which criticized him for his remarks. “It can be a living hell to go through endless campus investigations. I’ve seen this go down, and there really is no winning once the accusation is made even if the process provides formal vindication.
” Someone who is wrongfully accused needs to do their best to put it behind them and move on. Trying to re-enroll in the same institution would be a constant reminder of the traumatic experience of being the subject of a baseless accusation.
“If a university were to implement a ‘reasonable likelihood’ standard, it is important that they give the student the ability to withdraw so that their record isn’t tainted, nor should a mere reasonable likelihood standard hurt their prospects elsewhere.”
Polis added that universities should be able to decide where they stand on the matter, pointing out that the University of Colorado has an elected Board of Regents for this purpose.
“There is room for all sorts of standards in the marketplace and prospective students will choose the right balance based on their preferences and the reputations of the various universities,” he told the publication.