Friday, January 2, 2015

Climate for the wrongly accused on campus is worse now than it was in the Duke lacrosse case

KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, and Stuart Taylor Jr., a Washington writer and Brookings Institution nonresident senior fellow, co-authored the highly touted 2007 book “Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.” Durham in Wonderland, Professor KC Johnson's hugely influential blog that chronicled the Duke lacrosse false rape case was influential in helping to draw attention to the injustices in Durham. After the three young lacrosse players were declared "innocent" by the state's attorney general amid a media circus usually reserved for the rich and the famous, one of the young men, Reade Seligmann, issued a statement in which, among other things, he thanked Professor Johnson for his efforts.

Now, Johnson and Taylor think that the uncritical acceptance of the "Jackie" rape fable, as recounted by Rolling Stone, is an indication that things are worse for the presumptively innocent than they were 8 years ago. They write:
The responses of the vast majority of U-Va. students to the Rolling Stone fiasco were far less inspiring [than in the Duke lacrosse case]. It was, of course, predictable that self-styled victims’ rights activists would embrace Rolling Stone’s version of events. Less predictable, and more striking, was the uncritical acceptance of Jackie’s wild tale by the student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily. Until late December, its coverage mirrored Rolling Stone’s, even as various off-campus publications shredded Jackie’s varying accounts.

Instead, the newspaper’s executive editor, Katherine Ripley, was busy sending tweets with the hashtag #IStandWithJackie about how the Jackie story “resonated with me.” (Ms. Ripley hasn’t revealed which of Jackie’s mutually contradictory stories she believes; her most recent tweets have utilized the #IStandWithSurvivors hashtag.) Assistant Managing Editor Julia Horowitz proclaimed that “to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”

Even U-Va. fraternity members, President Sullivan’s most immediate targets, meekly accepted their ill-considered suspension without critical scrutiny either of Jackie’s now-discredited claims or of their own alleged complicity in a supposed “rape culture.” While a national organization of fraternities demanded that Sullivan apologize, the fraternities at U-Va. made no such demand.

Indeed, the school’s fraternity council recently joined with the student council and various victims’ rights groups to recommend that the state of Virginia change its laws to hold secret trials, with the public excluded, in all criminal prosecutions for rape -- a stunning call for star-chamber-style railroading of accused males.

The student coalition also expressed hope that the university would provide accusers access to legal counsel (their recommendations contained no reference to accused students’ need for lawyers), while ordering all future U-Va. students to take a course in “Women and Gender Studies.” At Duke eight years ago, by contrast, a similar curricular proposal won support only from the most extreme anti-lacrosse faculty members, and even the Brodhead administration elected not to embrace it.

What explains this difference between students at Duke in 2006 and U-Va. now? We cannot be sure. But we do know that the past eight years have witnessed a profound effort to devalue due process for students accused of sexual assault, regardless of the merits of the accusation. This trend, which was ably analyzed by Peter Berkowitz, has been accelerated by Obama administration demands that campuses significantly weaken their already weak procedural protections for accused students or face crippling cutoffs of federal funds. The inevitable result will be more convictions -- whether the accused was guilty or not.

Today’s students have been bombarded with the president’s assertions that “one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there” and similar claims by other officials, journalists, and academics. As Slate’s Emily Yoffe has observed, this absurd figure (which since has been discredited by the Bureau of Justice Statistics) implies that the typical college campus has the same rate of rape as war-torn areas of the Congo.

Yet powerful media voices, ranging from the New York Times to Huffington Post to BuzzFeed, have touted the claim while aggressively promoting the dubious “rape culture” narrative. They’ve done so through dozens of articles portraying sexual assault accusers who failed to prevail in campus disciplinary cases as victims of gender discrimination.

And the nation’s most prestigious universities, including U-Va. and Duke, have pushed such ideologies of resentment -- in their reeducation-camp-style “orientation” sessions for new students, in the extremist race/class/gender teachings that dominate many humanities courses, and in the kangaroo-court disciplinary systems that have censored expression of “offensive” political views as well as railroading dozens of students on rape charges that appear to be based on flimsy evidence.

In such an environment, it might be understandable that few students would risk being branded as “rape apologists” by defending due process. In this respect, the U-Va. student response may evidence a troubling trend over the last eight years. In any event, it surely illustrates a poisoned campus culture that has implications far beyond Charlottesville.