April 29, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: The Other Side of Title IX: A warning to higher-education administrators.

Brett Sokolow, director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, has a warning for American college and university administrators: In their efforts to enforce Title IX, he argues, they are running afoul of Title IX.

Title IX is a provision of the Education Amendments of 1972 that stipulates: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Under the Obama administration, the Education Department has interpreted this law as requiring colleges and universities to police sexual misconduct involving students, on or off campus, under the broad rubric of “sexual harassment . . . including sexual violence.”

In a newsletter to members dated last Thursday, Sokolow reports that “in the last two weeks, I’ve worked on five cases all involving drunken hook-ups on college campuses. In each case, the male accused of sexual misconduct was found responsible. In each case, I thought the college got it completely wrong.”

He does not reveal the names of the institutions involved or any other specific details of the cases, presumably because his consultative role entails a duty of confidentiality. But he sums up the problem as follows: “Some [disciplinary] boards and panels still can’t tell the difference between drunken sex and a policy violation”–that is, a sexual assault.

Sometimes that is by design. “In a recent case,” Sokolow recounts, “the campus policy stated that intoxication creates an inability to consent.” That makes it easy to establish a violation–except that in many cases the accuser has violated the letter of the policy as much as the accused has. “If both are intoxicated, they both did the same thing to each other,” Sokolow writes. “Why should only the male be charged if both students behave in ways defined as prohibited by the policy?”

The answer is that many universities have become hostile environments for male students, because of the rampant — and, frequently, open and unapologetic — sexism of their administrators. I encourage students injured by this climate of sexism to file lawsuits, which, as Sokolow notes, are likely to succeed. “We are making Title IX plaintiffs out of them.”

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