We often hear the expression "where there's smoke there's fire" in reference to a man accused of sexual assault. Well, there's plenty of smoke this morning at Denison University, but this time, it's the reeking, malodorous soot that blots the sky when the U.S. Constitution has been tossed into the incinerator--the slow, smoldering burn of students' sacred rights being reduced to ash.
We can't say for certain whether Denison is violating the rights of its students. But recent allegations by not one but two male students suggest that Denison needs to clearly explain itself to the Y-chromosomes of its student body -- it needs to provide its students adequate assurances that their rights aren't being violated.
First, last month, a young man who had been expelled from the school in April 2010 for allegedly sexually assaulting two women settled a lawsuit against the school on confidential terms. We don't know what happened, but we do know what the young man alleged, and the charges are as serious as can be imagined. Among other things, the young man alleged that Denison officials knew the women's statements used to expel him were false. Further, he alleged that Denison violated its code of conduct requiring an "unbiased hearing" -- because the conduct boards that decided his fate included people who knew the women, including a fellow sorority member. The young man also alleged that he was not permitted to have an attorney at those hearings and was not read his Miranda rights when questioned by Denison's safety director.
In addition, the counselor who worked with both accusers shredded her notes and one of the women's statements prior to the young man's lawsuit. "Consider the shredding done. I asked permission to shred the notes that I took earlier (University Council). I've just shredded your statements," she wrote.
Second, last week, another man has filed suit against Denison and a female student he says falsely accused him of sexual assault in connection with an entirely separate incident. The former student was suspended for the 2011-12 academic year after a Denison conduct board determined he had sex with the woman while she was intoxicated and could not consent.
But multiple witnesses said the woman was not impaired and sought the male student out, according to the young man's complaint filed in Licking County Common Pleas Court this past week.
The complaint contends that at a party, the woman told several people she was looking to have sex and she was seen grinding on the man. She led the young man out of party and tugged on his shirt to get him to leave. They had sex in his dorm room and returned to the party, according to the complaint. In the complaint, the suspended student alleged libel, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and other wrongs.
Note that Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt determined he could not pursue charges in connection with this incident since there was no physical evidence and no eyewitness--because the woman said she did not recall the events of that night. Moreover, she did not wish to pursue charges.
Denison is typical of American colleges in institutionalizing added protections for sexual assault accusers, but not for the men they accuse. See here. Moreover, Denison is one of the colleges that "guarantee[s] amnesty from sanctions for violations of alcohol policies for victims of sexual assault." See here. The latter policy raises serious concerns about giving young women a motive to falsely allege rape to avoid punishment for violating the school's alchohol policies.
But now Denison has some serious explaining to do to its male students, and those students (whose annunal tuition bill is in the $40,000-range) need to know whether their rights are being tossed onto a scrapheap of indifference to fulfill a misguided PC agenda.