For the past four years there has been a running conflict between Harvard Law School and the university administration over sexual assault policy. The university had adopted what was supposed to be a campus wide policy for dealing with complaints about sexual assault that was intended to comply with US Dept. of Education requirements for gender equality under title IX. The law school had been claiming a right not to follow university policy because in their view it did not adequately protect the rights of the accused. When faced with a threat of the lose of federal funds, they have entered into a settlement agreement under which they agree to follow the same policy as the rest of the university.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced Tuesday that it has entered into an agreement with Harvard University and its law school, bringing an end to one of the department’s longest-running Title IX investigations and strengthening a sexual assault policy that some Harvard faculty have criticized as being unfair to accused students.
The law school violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal anti-discrimination law that requires colleges to investigate campus sexual assaults, by providing more rights to the accused than the accusers, the department said Tuesday. In one case, the Harvard Law School took more than a year to make its final decision about an alleged sexual assault, allowing the accused student to take part in a lengthy – and ultimately successful – appeal process in which he was able to be represented by legal counsel.
The student who brought the complaint was not allowed the same opportunities, the department said.
At the time, this was in line with the college’s official policies regarding the post-hearing rights of accused students. The process also used a “clear and convincing” standard of proof, rather than the department’s recommended “preponderance of evidence” standard. During the four-year investigation, many institutions switched to this lower standard, but institutions like Harvard and Princeton University both held onto the higher standard until earlier this year. Princeton entered into its own Title IX agreement, which mirrors Harvard's in several ways, last month.
This is of course yet another chapter in the long running controversies surrounding the issues about sexual assault on college campuses and how it should be dealt with in terms of disciplinary proceedings. The matter was recently all over the media with the story about the Rolling Stone article which alleged the occurrence of a gang rape at a Univ. of VA fraternity. Many of the advocates for men's rights take the position that any accusation of rape should be referred to law enforcement authorities with college administration deferring any form of disciplinary action against accused students until the matter has had a "final resolution" in the criminal justice system. That process can of course drag on for years. Women's advocates take the position that it is the responsibility of the college to protect the physical and emotional safety of women students. The Dept of Ed is following a position oriented toward the views of women's rights advocates.