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What's Dartmouth's Real Attitude about Due Process?

Last week, the University of Virginia hosted a conference to talk about the handling of sexual assault on campus in light of the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. (Executive summary: Everyone’s still confused about it.) Inside Higher Ed’s Allie Grasgreen covered the conference, and her report included a mightily interesting exchange involving Amanda Childress, who is the coordinator of the Sexual Assault Awareness Program at Dartmouth College:

"Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation?" Childress asked at the panel, before noting that while 2 to 8 percent of accusations are unfounded (but not necessarily intentionally false), 90 to 95 percent are unreported, committed by repeat offenders, and intentional. "It seems to me that we value fair and equitable processes more than we value the safety of our students. And higher education is not a right. Safety is a right. Higher education is a privilege."

"If we know that a person is reasonably a threat to our community," Childress said, "why are we not removing them and protecting the safety of our students?"

As you can imagine, the idea that maybe we should just go ahead and expel students and brand them as rapists based on allegations rather than, say, evidence, raised a few eyebrows at FIRE. (Bloggers Professor KC Johnson and Paul Mirengoff noticed it too.) What made this really interesting rather than simply a depressing confirmation of administrative attitudes towards due process, though, is Dartmouth’s “explanation” of Childress’ remarks to Campus Reform:

However, Dartmouth says that Childress, who plays no role in the judiciary process, was speaking rhetorically and that the question did not represent a personal belief.

"[S]he was not suggesting policy, but was asking a question—a provocative one—meant to generate dialogue around complex issues for which answers are necessary to continue to strengthen and promote fair and equitable processes at all colleges and universities,” Dartmouth College spokesman Justin Anderson told Campus Reform in an emailed statement.

Anderson said that the college “is committed to a fair, objective disciplinary process that respects the rights of both the reporting student and the accused,” and has no intention of altering its policies.

Yes, Childress’ statement was in part a question, but Dartmouth’s statement pretty clumsily elides over the part of the “question” in which Childress says, “It seems to me that we value fair and equitable processes more than we value the safety of our students. And higher education is not a right. Safety is a right. Higher education is a privilege.” (At Dartmouth, this “privilege” costs $63,282 per year, $0 of which you get back when you’re expelled from the place simply because someone accused you of something.) Dartmouth’s suggestion that this question was not a reflection of Childress’ opinions about due process doesn’t pass the laugh test. Dartmouth obviously hopes nobody will compare Childress’ actual “question” with Dartmouth’s lame attempt at CYA; attorneys representing students expelled from Dartmouth in the future might be interested in the implications of Childress’ statement.

The plus side of Dartmouth’s response is that at least the college must be a little embarrassed by Childress, right? Well, maybe. But right before Childress made her statement at the UVA conference, Dartmouth gave Childress a promotion, appointing her head of the college’s brand new sexual assault center. Looks like Amanda Childress’ career is on the rise at Dartmouth. Let’s just hope not too many students end up getting stepped on while she makes her way to the top.

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