National Public Radio's (NPR's) Morning Edition reports this morning on the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, due to be signed into law today, and its impact on campus.
While FIRE takes no position on the vast majority of the law, we have been vocal about its provisions affecting student rights at colleges and universities. As we wrote last week, FIRE and others worked effectively with legislators from both sides of the aisle to remove language mandating use of the low "preponderance of the evidence" standard for campus sexual misconduct proceedings and the creation of a "National Center for Campus Public Safety," which likely would have promulgated standards that threaten freedom of expression, from the law's final version. However, the final version of the law contains a provision that countenances appeals by both the accused and the accuser—a dangerous version of "double jeopardy." That version will be signed into law today by President Obama.
In comments today to NPR's Morning Edition, FIRE's Will Creeley explained our objections to the initial version of VAWA's inclusion of the preponderance of the evidence (a 50.01%, "more likely than not" evidentiary burden) standard. Will points out that the preponderance of the evidence standard—our judiciary's lowest—isn't appropriate for campus hearings adjudicating sexual misconduct because of the lack of other due process protections afforded to the accused and because of the serious consequences at stake:
"The need to secure justice for victims of sexual assault is paramount," Creeley says. "But campus judicial processes don't have the kind of procedural safeguards that we should expect, given the severity and the life-altering punishments that are at stake. A student found guilty of sexual assaults will be expelled from campus and will be effectively labeled a rapist."
In advocating against diminished standards of evidence on campus, FIRE has also been a vocal opponent of similar provisions contained in the April 4, 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In that letter, OCR mandated that colleges and universities receiving federal funding use the preponderance of the evidence standard in sexual misconduct cases-a threat that FIRE, the American Association of University Professors, and numerous others from across the political spectrum continue to raise concerns about. Thankfully, this mandate was not included in the final version of VAWA.
For more from Morning Edition on VAWA's passage and FIRE's position, listen here.