More Grotesque Sex Hearings at Yale

KC Johnson
Feb. 5, 2014

Yale has released the latest of its biannual reports regarding sexual assault claims handled through the university’s due process-unfriendly disciplinary system. The report testifies to some interesting changes, strongly suggesting that Yale adjudicates sexual assault claims less on a principle of justice and more out of a concern with avoiding negative public relations.

The background for this new release comes in Yale’s previous report, which appeared in September and was penned (as were all previous reports) by Yale Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler. Like other Spangler offerings, it offered hints of the Orwellian nature of sexual assault proceedings at Yale while going out of its way not to describe the specific procedures under which accused Yale students were tried.

But “activists” and some sympathizers in the media, such as Huffington Post’s Tyler Kingkade, seized on another element of the September report: despite claiming that several men had committed sexual offenses, Yale hadn’t expelled any of the offenders. There was, of course, a good reason for this: Yale’s extraordinarily broad definition of sexual assault meant that the university was deeming as rapists people who no jurisdiction anywhere in the country would consider guilty of anything approximating rape. In these instances, the “punishment” might have actually fit the “crime.”

At the time, the university defended itself by releasing “scenarios” that only proved Yale had redefined the term sexual assault beyond all recognition. (Cathy Young brilliantly illustrated the point.) But it’s clear that the activists’ complaints generated results.

The new Spangler Report contains two important items. First, it revealed that during the past six months, the university has not handled one sexual assault case through the “informal complaint” procedure. (“During this reporting period (July 1 – December 31, 2013), there were 0 informal resolutions pursued through the UWC.”) This is an enormous change, since past Spangler documents had suggested that many, and in some semesters most, of Yale’s cases were handled informally.

At first blush, the move might seem an advance for due process rights. Under the “informal complaint” procedure, the accused student lacks the right to introduce evidence of his innocence. Instead, the process is designed to give the accuser maximum control of what passes for the judicial process. In such a “court,” conviction is all but assured once a complaint is made.

But in the changed environment caused by the activists’ August criticism, the “informal complaint” procedure had one major drawback: punishment options are limited. So Yale can almost at will designate students as rapists–this is the “procedure” that affected former Yale quarterback Patrick Witt–but the punishment is the designation, seemingly to make the accuser feel better about her situation.

With boosting punishment (seemingly) Yale’s chief new goal, the “informal complaint” procedure has effectively been set aside. Its replacement, the formal complaint procedure, gives a handful of rights to the accused student, but bows to the OCR preponderance of evidence standard, allows conviction on a 3-2 vote of a panel specially chosen from the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, severely limits the ability of the accused student to call witnesses, and doesn’t even require the panel to take into account “reports and evidence collected by law enforcement bodies.” Why, it seems, let the facts get in the way of the preferred outcome?

Punishment is the order of the day in the cases handled through the formal complaint procedures. Over the past six months, all but one student was convicted (and even he was given an order to stay away from his accuser). The other cases are either pending or led to two- or four-term suspensions, with two accused students electing to withdraw rather than contest through procedures that are all but rigged.

Yale’s Title IX coordinator was unusually busy over the past six months, handling 50 complaints, most of them allegations of sexual harassment. Some of these complaints involved (alleged) conduct that would fit into the commonly understood definition of sexual harassment. But others highlight the unusual atmosphere at Yale and most college campuses. One male student, for instance, is now under investigation because a female student claimed he “paid unwanted attention to her.” And several students were investigated on the basis of either third-party or anonymous reports.

Continuing the pattern that professors as well as students are vulnerable to the university’s Orwellian procedures, there’s this item: “An anonymous individual [emphasis added] reported that a male faculty member made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature and engaged in other inappropriate conduct to several staff members. The respondent was suspended pending the investigation, which is ongoing.”

So a Yale faculty member was suspended solely–at least according to the Spangler document–on the basis of an anonymous complaint. Even if the professor is ultimately exonerated, this move exemplifies the remarkable, unchecked power given to virtually anyone on the Yale campus to commence a witch hunt against a male student or even faculty member who has crossed the accuser.

And, finally, the case from the current report that (unintentionally) best reveals the Kafka-esque environment that now prevails at Yale. Spangler indicates that “an anonymous [graduate] student reported that a [graduate] student, who was not identified, made inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature.”

The investigation, Spangler informs us, “is pending.” –