Colleges aren’t courts and are the absolutely wrong environment to hold hearings on sexual assault.

Robert Carle writes at the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse blog.

The Trouble with Campus Rape Tribunals

The scourge of sexual assaults on college campuses rightly fills us with rage and indignation. But crimes that produce such visceral emotions need to be adjudicated in an impartial and dispassionate manner. A student found responsible for sexual assault is almost always expelled from school and barred from campus. His permanent record will often note that he was found guilty of sexual assault, thereby limiting his educational, employment, and housing opportunities. Such a life-shattering event warrants high standards of due process protections for the accused. Our courts provide such protections.

Campus tribunals, which are conducted by amateurs in emotionally charged atmospheres, do not. Unfortunately, President Obama is using his authority under Title IX to vastly expand the role of campus tribunals in adjudicating cases of sexual assault.

In April 2011, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights sent out a “Dear Colleague Letter” that outlined steps that colleges must take to respond to sexual assault on campus. This letter called for sensible reforms such as increased training for victims’ advocates, more partnerships with rape-crisis centers, and bystander awareness to teach men to intervene if they see a woman who is about to be victimized.

But the letter also ordered colleges and universities to investigate and adjudicate students’ reports of sexual assault, even if the alleged victim decides not to have a medical exam or report the incident to the police. Colleges that do not take the steps recommended by the Office for Civil Rights will lose federal funding and be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for litigation.

In a follow-up communication, the Department of Justice’s May 9, 2013 letter to the President of the University of Montana, the Obama administration admonishes colleges and universities to dramatically expand their definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment and assault and to lower standards of evidence needed to find students responsible for sexual assault.