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FIRE’s 'One Trick': Protecting Civil Liberties

Given the deeply deserved contempt we as a society harbor for those guilty of sexual assault, I suppose it was only a matter of time before somebody confused FIRE's continuing defense of due process rights for those accused of sexual assault with a defense of the heinous acts themselves. Because any decent human being finds rape reprehensible, discussing how to respond to sexual assault engenders strong feelings. As a result, it is perhaps unsurprising that some observers are angry and confused about our May 5 open letter to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and our work defending civil liberties more generally.

Even so, I didn't expect experienced student conduct administrators to be among those mistaking our defense of due process for a defense of sexual assault. So it is therefore disappointing to find that some student conduct veterans are, in fact, doing just that.

In a recent blog entry, Illinois State University Associate Dean of Students Rick Olshak accuses FIRE of many things: engaging in a "sad and tired act" of "overstating a fear that generally exists in their own minds"; "using a handful of cases to project an inaccurate hypothesis"; "challenging [] every step taken to protect those that have historically been at a disadvantage"; and propagating an "alarmist mentality." And that's just with regard to our daily work of defending student and faculty rights, generally.

Turning specifically to FIRE's May 5 letter to OCR, Olshak hurls still more accusations: FIRE is treating due process rights as a "a zero-sum game," "puffing up its chest and staring down OCR in a public tantrum over how the [OCR's Dear Colleague Letter of April 4, 2011] will now infringe upon free speech rights and violate due process rights for accused students"; and failing to "acknowledge the rights of aggrieved parties to participate equitably in processes that matter just as much to them as they do to the accused students."

Most disappointingly of all, Olshak cites with approval Brett Sokolow, founder and president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, as stating that "all FIRE has done is to demonstrate that it could stand up for the rights of rapists everywhere." But before answering this remarkable charge, let's go through Olshak's arguments point by point.

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