In a shocking editorial published last week, the staff of The Middlebury Campus railed against the ability of “outside individuals” like lawyers and judges to demand basic fairness from Middlebury College’s disciplinary processes.
The editorial followed a Vermont federal court’s decision to halt Middlebury’s expulsion of a student accused of sexual misconduct, pending further legal proceedings. The court issued a preliminary injunction, which may be granted only when a party can show both that they have a likelihood of success on the merits and that they would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction.
The staff of The Middlebury Campus is incensed that Middlebury’s ability to address sexual assault as it sees fit might be limited by, you know, the law:
What is most upsetting to us as a board is that we do not want outside individuals like [FIRE cofounder and attorney Harvey Silverglate, whose firm is representing plaintiff John Doe] affecting our ability to police our own community. Although we do not believe Middlebury to be above the law, we worry that if the College must face forces like Silverglate every time it decides to expel a student found guilty of sexual assault, our judicial system may be compromised and victims of sexual assault may hesitate to come forward because of Doe’s complicated legal challenge to Middlebury’s ruling.
The piece also notes that “[l]awyers like these have the resources to find legal loopholes without having to contend with their clients’ guilt.”
This is disheartening, to say the least. It perfectly illustrates the dangerous blind spot that so many people, particularly on campus, seem to have developed with regard to accusations of sexual assault. As blogger Fredrik deBoer recently noted, too many people who otherwise care deeply about fairness and justice discard the importance of due process in sexual assault cases, and as a result,
the topic of rights of the accused for those who face allegations of sex crimes is now frequently dismissed with eye-rolling and the blanket assumption of bad faith, as if maintaining rights central to a free society is similar to conspiracy mongering about chemtrails.
This attitude is on full display here. The alleged sexual assault took place while the plaintiff was on a study abroad program with the School for International Training (SIT). The SIT investigated the allegations and held a hearing at which the plaintiff was found not responsible. After initially accepting the SIT’s findings, Middlebury ultimately re-opened the case and, with no hearing, found the plaintiff responsible and ordered him expelled.
These are the facts on which the staff of The Middlebury Campus has decided that the plaintiff is guilty. Can you imagine any other scenario in which a group of college students seemingly concerned with justice would accept a disciplinary body re-opening a case in which someone had already been found innocent, re-considering it without a hearing, and then finding that person guilty? I cannot.
Also depressing is the paper’s idea that legal accountability would “compromise” Middlebury’s disciplinary processes. Do these students really want their educational and career prospects dependent upon the whims of a campus judiciary whose policies and procedures would not survive legal scrutiny? Or are they just blinded by their “guilty until proven innocent” attitude towards students accused of sexual misconduct?
Either way, this editorial paints a discouraging picture of students’ beliefs about fundamental fairness and the presumption of innocence.