More Professors Subjected to Title IX Investigations
May 17, 2016
This week brought news of two more college professors who faced Title IX investigations for allegedly sexually harassing a student and an executive assistant. Both learned the hard way that due process is no longer allowed on college campuses, even for professors and administrators.
First we learned of Oberlin theatre and dance professor Roger Copeland, who was subjected to a brief Title IX investigation (which was dropped) because he spoke sharply to a female student. That’s it. That’s all he did, but because Copeland is a male and the student was a female (and no man can ever criticize a woman these days) Oberlin considered, however briefly, that the situation might have been caused by sexism.
Even though the Title IX investigation was dropped, Copeland was still investigated for hurting the student’s feelings. He was allegedly told by an administrator that it didn’t matter if witnesses could say the alleged verbal abuse didn’t happen the way the accusing student described, because “what matters is that the student felt unsafe.”
This opens the door for a whole new set of accusations against professors and other administrators, as any student who gets verbally reprimanded can claim abuse, thanks to the federal government’s dumbing down of what constitutes a “hostile environment.” Conduct need no longer be “pervasive” or even ongoing, a single incident, involving a particularly sensitive student, is enough to ensnare a professor in a due process-free investigation.
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Copeland hired a lawyer (a right most students across the country are denied or can’t afford) and was told by the university that if he didn’t meet with them without his attorney present, they would bring him before the Professional Conduct Review Committee. Copeland and his attorney told them to go for it (I’d like to imagine they were laughing), and they never heard back from the administration.
We also learned this week about University of California Berkeley law professor Sujit Choudhry, who essentially faced double jeopardy for his alleged offense because UC President Janet Napolitano was facing criticism. Choudhry was accused of hugging his female executive assistant and kissing her on the cheek. The assistant, Tyann Sorrell, told administrators that Choudhry hugged and kissed her in this manner “five to six times a day.”
She apparently never told Choudhry she was uncomfortable by his actions, which he said he only did once or twice a week to show support. When Sorrell finally did mention the conduct to Choudry — after she complained to the school and had an investigation launched — she told him in an email: “I know you do not mean anything by [your actions] other than, perhaps a warm and friendly greeting.”
She gave the school the names of two witnesses, who backed up Choudhry’s version of events that the hugging and kissing was rare.
No matter, the school sanctioned Choudry by cutting his pay 10 percent for the year, forcing him to pay out of pocket for workplace coaching, writing an apology to Sorrell and constantly having those who investigated him looking over his shoulder.
Fine, Choudhry accepted this. But then Sorrell sued months later, alleging the school mishandled her complaint (naturally). Thanks to the issue constantly being in the news and Americans being told they must “listen and believe,” Napolitano — who was facing her own criticism for mishandling accusations — was asked about the lawsuit. Without any of the facts (who needs facts when you have an accusation?) Napolitano claimed Choudhry “groped” Sorrell. She then ordered the school to open a second investigation against Choudhry, which could have resulted in his being fired.
Choudry resigned but issued a grievance. The school had given no indication that his original sanctions were anything but final.
These two accusations are reminiscent of Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis, who was herself subjected to a Title IX investigation because she dared to write an article that questioned Title IX investigations. Kipnis wrote a lengthy follow-up article detailing the due process and sanity-free investigation against her. Kipnis was eventually cleared, probably aided by the media backlash against the school for investigating her.
But it is telling that professors are beginning to see firsthand the weaponization of Title IX. Once used to ensure women had equal access to campus sports, the requirements of the federal statute have been expanded (through totalitarian means) to now force schools to play investigator, judge, jury, executioner and appelate court for accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault, a felony.
Male students are the main targets of the accusations, and have seen their due process rights eviscerated by the Education Department, which requires schools to use a low preponderance of evidence standard to brand someone a rapist without allowing them to properly defend themselves (during investigations designed to find them responsible). Perhaps now that professors are seeing the consequences of the policies, things will change. I won’t hold my breath.