Today, I wanted to point out a column from a couple weeks back by Michael Barone.
He points out the university used to be place in society where you would find the widest allowance of free expression. But things have changed:
Today, we live in an America with enormous cultural variety in which very few things are considered universally verboten. But on campus it's different. There, saying something considerably milder than some of the double entendres you heard in cable news coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal can get you into big trouble.
What brought this on?
These reflections are inspired by a seemingly innocuous 19-page letter on April 4 from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to colleges and universities. The letter was given prominence by Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has done yeoman work opposing restrictive speech codes issued by colleges and universities.
OCR's letter carries great weight since there are few things a university president fears more than an OCR investigation, which can lead to losses of federal funds -- which amount to billions in some cases.
In my opinion, the only institutions of higher learning that should be getting federal funding in the first place are ones doing work (such as training) for the military, or some other Constitutionally-stipulated federal government work.
The OCR letter includes a requirement that universities adopt a "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof for deciding sexual harassment and sexual assault. In other words, in every case of alleged sexual harassment or sexual assault, a disciplinary board must decide on the basis of more likely than not.
That's far short of the requirement in criminal law that charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And these disciplinary proceedings sometimes face charges that could also be criminal, as in cases of alleged rape.
Uh-oh. This means things are going to get even worse for men - a minority on campus already.
Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include "humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable" (University of California at Berkeley), "unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate putdowns of individual persons or classes of people" (Iowa State University) or "elevator eyes" (Murray State University in Kentucky).
All of which means that just about any student can be hauled before a disciplinary committee. Jokes about sex will almost always make someone uncomfortable, after all, and usually you can't be sure if flirting will be welcome except after the fact. And how do you define "elevator eyes"?
Simple. "Elevator eyes" are when a man looks in the general direction of a woman and she finds him unattractive or dislikes him for any reason, and she wants to complain about him. Isn't that easy?
As Lukianoff points out, OCR had other alternatives. The Supreme Court in a 1999 case defined sexual harassment as conduct "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims' educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." In other words, more than a couple of tasteless jokes or a moment of elevator eyes.
Now now, the Supreme Court is only to be listened to when it says something these people like.
Look, fully half my ancestors were women, I have sisters, I have a wife, I have a daughter. I don't want them to have to deal with sexist hate or crude behavior. But this is being ridiculous and downright dangerous. You may be sympathetic to this cause, especially if you are a woman who has been subjected to crude comments, but do you want your brother, your son, your husband, your male friends to be railroaded off campus on the whims of a, perhaps, emotionally or psychologically unstable woman?
For sure, throw violent people off campus and into prison. Remove anyone on staff or in the student body who is proven to persist in actual harassment. But if it is going to be merely "he said vs. she said", her word is going to be given more weight.