Attempts by the U. S. Department of Education to tighten the reins on the Ivory Tower may already be backfiring on the very colleges and universities that welcomed the move. “A jury ruling on Friday against a private university illustrates how institutions can open themselves up to legal challenges if—amid rising pressure to resolve sexual-assault cases—they fail to seek balance in disciplinary procedures for handling those cases, several experts said,” Collin Eaton reported in The Chronicle Of Higher Education. “In Friday’s verdict, a federal jury issued a split decision in the case of a former student who accused Sewanee: the University of the South of damaging his reputation in the course of a rape investigation, and who sued the Tennessee institution for million of dollars.”
“The former student, who remained anonymous under the name ‘John Doe’ for the court proceedings, was awarded just $26,500 after the jury found the private institution was negligent in a disciplinary hearing that resulted from the rape accusation in 2008.” Attorneys did not have to scratch their heads to connect the dots to recent federa regulations promulgated by the Obama Administration.
“Colleges and universities will only see more cases like the one involving Sewanee because of new sexual-assault guidelines the U.S. Department of Education issued in April, said Peter F. Lake, a professor of law at Stetson University,” Eaton reported. “The guidelines lowered the level of proof required during a disciplinary hearing, recommending a move from ‘clear and convincing’ evidence to a ‘preponderance’ of the evidence, a standard that uses a ‘more likely than not’ sort of logic.”
“Colleges are caught between a rock and a hard place because their process is going to be microscopically picked over by students who are accused,” Lake told Eaton. “Understandably so, because it is essentially a scarlet letter if you’re accused.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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