College Insurrection readers know how bad things can get for students who are accused of sexual misconduct.

Allie Grasgreen of Inside Higher Ed provides an update from Virginia.

Classrooms, Courts or Neither?

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Since the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights affirmed in its 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that colleges should use a lower standard of evidence than criminal courts when adjudicating sexual assault complaints, many civil liberties advocates, lawyers and even politicians have accused the federal government of trampling students’ right to due process. Campus officials, for the most part, have stressed that adjudication is an educational experience, where students are found “responsible” rather than “guilty,” so their processes should be different from the criminal justice system’s.

But during a two-day “dialogue” about sexual misconduct and college students here at the University of Virginia, it was clear that discontent over OCR’s decree — not to mention the question of whether colleges should even be adjudicating these cases in the first place — is alive and well within academe.

The question of whether colleges should hear sexual assault cases — in “kangaroo courts,” as critics often call them — is largely moot, because they are required by federal law to do so.

“We’re certainly amateurs if the expectation is that we’re supposed to be courts,” Amherst College President Carolyn (Biddy) Martin said Monday during a panel featuring six college presidents whose campuses have been affected by high-profile allegations. “We ought not to be amateurs when it comes to education, and to a set of policies, processes and practices that can fairly assess responsibility for a range of things.”

Besides, Martin said, “We want our campuses to be safe — so we should deal with them.”

But some of the more than 200 attendees, including students, prosecutors and student affairs staff, disagreed on that point, and others.

Linda Fairstein, a senior analyst at K2 Intelligence who consults with campuses on sexual violence issues, said in an interview Monday that felony-level cases in which a criminal act clearly took place “should only be handled in the criminal justice system.”