Colleges Must Promote Personal Responsibility, Not 'He-Said, She-Said' Trials

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Only she and her sometime boyfriend know for sure whether he raped her, as she claims and he denies. Her allegation was never tested in criminal court, because she never went to the police. Instead the matter was adjudicated in a campus court at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where both were students.

This story is a tangled mess that recently made national news. But it belongs to a large genre, familiar to the first author from his years as dean of Harvard College.

First, an accusation of rape, made to college officials long after the event in question. Then, differing accounts told by the only two witnesses. Never a confession, since anything stated to the campus court could be handed to a prosecutor and lead to criminal conviction and imprisonment. No forensic evidence or contemporaneous police report.

A campus court is then stuck with the job of fairly deciding between the conflicting accounts based on credibility alone. Bitterness is inevitable on the part of whichever party is not believed.

Rape cases are hard enough to prove in a criminal court with an experienced prosecutor and good forensics. They are certainly beyond the capacity of campus courts, which were designed to punish the age-old forms of undergraduate misbehavior—cheating on tests, peeing on the president’s doorstep—not felonies that carry lengthy terms in the criminal justice system.

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