Magazine article Insight on the News

University Assailed on Sex-Crime Trials

Magazine article Insight on the News

University Assailed on Sex-Crime Trials

Article excerpt

Critics claim a sexual-misconduct policy adopted by Columbia University violates the civil rights of students charged with such offenses, denying them due-process procedures,

A Philadelphia foundation that advocates campus liberty is pressuring Columbia University to revoke a new sexual-misconduct policy, which it says tramples on the rights of students. The policy, adopted in the spring and put into effect this fall, eliminates certain due-process procedures in handling complaints of sexual assault, date rape and other related crimes. Accused students cannot confront their accusers, question witnesses or bring attorneys to proceedings.

"We have learned from history that special tribunals feel an exalted sense of prosecutorial zeal and that it is precisely when charges are serious and issues politically charged that we need the fullest protections of procedural safeguards to protect the innocent and to discover the truth" says Alan Charles Kors, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

"As it stands today, students at Columbia are far less free than students who attend the City University of New York or Staten Island Community College," says Kors. "The privilege of attending Columbia should not require students to give up the expectation of receiving decent treatment and fundamental fairness from all of Columbia's programs, including its campus disciplinary system."

Under the university code, a student can file a complaint with the university's sexual-misconduct office. A panel of two deans and a student, trained in hearing the issues, interviews those involved in the incident separately. The panel then renders a judgment that is passed along to the dean of the accused student's college. A student who has been charged with a violation may bring a "silent supporter" to the proceeding. The victim may elect to forgo the campus procedures and instead file a criminal complaint.

The new policy faced little opposition when it was taken up by the faculty-staff senate last February. It was endorsed by Columbia President George Rupp and much of the faculty. School officials defended the sexual-misconduct policy in a statement: "While the Columbia procedures incorporate basic due-process standards, the United States courts have ruled that imposition of every criminal-law due-process requirement is not necessary to ensure a fair and effective process for handling the violations of university policies. …

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