Contact: Gina Lauterio
‘Something is going seriously wrong’: Colleges Grapple with Wave of Sexual Assault Lawsuits
WASHINGTON / April 18, 2016 – Following a recent California ruling in favor of a student accused of sexual misconduct, state lawmakers and college administrators are beginning to consider the budgetary implications of these claims. On April 5 the California Second Appellate District Superior Court overturned a University of Southern California decision that found a male student responsible because he allegedly “encouraged or permitted” other students to slap a female student on her buttocks. The Superior Court explained, “it is not too heavy a burden to require that students facing disciplinary action be informed of the factual basis for the charges against them.” (1)
The University of Southern California decision is the eighth ruling in 2016 in which a court found in favor of a student accused of sexual assault, or allowed the case to proceed because the pleadings were sufficient to state a cause of action. (2)
The growing number of rulings in favor of accused students was the focus of a recent Inside Higher Ed article. (3) The account quoted Gary Pavela, editor of the the Association of Student Conduct Administration’s Law and Policy’s Report, as saying, “In over 20 years of reviewing higher education law cases, I’ve never seen such a string of legal setbacks for universities, both public and private, in student conduct cases….Something is going seriously wrong.”
These lawsuits represent a growing financial burden for colleges. According to Brett Sokolow of the Association of Title IX Administrators, responding to a due process lawsuit “can run into the high six or even seven figures, not counting a settlement or verdict.” (4) In February, the University of Montana agreed to pay a former student $245,000 because of the university’s biased adjudication of a sexual assault allegation. (5)
Risk management efforts to forestall these lawsuits are becoming increasingly costly, as well. Salaries for Title IX coordinators can range from $50,000 to $150,000 a year. Sokolow estimates the cost of lawyers, counselors, and educational campaigns run from $50,000 a year at small colleges, to half a million dollars and more at large universities.
Harvard University now employs 50 Title IX coordinators across its 13 schools. At Yale, nearly 30 faculty members and staff are involved in its Title IX programs. Columbia University now has a Title IX staff consisting of 11 educators and 7 case workers, and covers the legal expenses of both accusers and the accused.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni recently issued a statement sharply critical of the U.S. Department of Education for issuing directives that have “unconscionably conflated ‘conduct and speech cases’ in a way that has grossly expanded the intrusion of this unaccountable bureaucracy at the expense of faculty and student constitutional rights.” The Council warned, “It’s time that institutions—and their boards—fought back.” (6)
SAVE is working for evidence-based, constitutionally sound solutions to campus sexual assault: www.saveservices.org