It’s been six weeks since Rolling Stone published Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s now largely debunked article focusing on Jackie, a University of Virginia student who alleged she was raped by seven men at a fraternity house party. Amidst outraged readers calling for a swift response just after the article’s publication, UVA President Teresa Sullivan suspended all fraternities and sororities until January 9. This act remains in effect despite strong evidence that Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity Jackie named, had nothing to do with whatever might have happened to Jackie the night of her alleged rape.
Last week, Professor Robert Turner and his son, Thomas Turner, a third-year student at UVA, penned an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch criticizing Sullivan’s decision to punish all fraternities based on a mere allegation against one—an allegation that many found suspicious on its face. They called for the university to apologize and reminded readers of the important principle of due process. The father and son wrote:
Did U.Va. learn nothing from the 2006 Duke lacrosse team scandal, where — reportedly under strong pressure from prejudiced faculty members anxious to make an example of “privileged” athletes — on the sole basis of an allegation of rape, the lacrosse coach was fired and the team’s schedule for the rest of the season canceled? When the accuser admitted she fabricated the allegation, Duke reportedly paid close to $100 million dollars for legal and PR expenses and to settle various lawsuits.
More fundamentally, what message did Sullivan send about basic fairness and the due process of law? Neither of us has any connection with the Greek system, and we understand that they are not popular with some faculty members and administrators. But it is precisely when the alleged crime is so heinous, and the accused unpopular with those in authority, that we must guard against emotion-driven efforts to bypass fundamental due process. Books like “The Ox Bow Incident” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” are so highly acclaimed because they remind us of that important principle.
Professor Turner and his son share FIRE’s view that universities’ obligation to respond effectively to allegations of sexual assault does not necessitate punishing students or student organizations without regard for their rights.
Read the rest of the Turners’ op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.