June 3, 2015

MEGAN MCARDLE: Campus Justice: Punished Until Proven Innocent.

Northwestern put Kipnis through a lengthy process in which she wasn’t allowed to know the nature of the complaint until she talked to investigators, nor could she have representation.

But the process worked, says Justin Weinberg, because Kipnis was eventually exonerated. Weinberg, who teaches philosophy, also thinks it’s “not obvious” that writing an article about an ongoing complaint, which does not mention either the students or professors by name, is retaliation under Title IX. Like Brian Leiter, I find his summation of the facts underwhelming, and as Leiter says, “If Kipnis’s opinion piece about sexual paranoia on campus, in which the graduate student is not even named and barely referenced, constitutes adverse ‘treatment,’ then there is no right for any faculty member at any institution receiving federal funds to offer any opinions, however indirect, about any question surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct at the institution.”

But I’ll let Leiter argue with Weinberg about the case itself, because I want to take issue with this passage: “As I noted earlier, the Title IX investigation yielded no finding of retaliation against Kipnis. One can only imagine how disappointed she will be with this. It turns out that the process she had been demonizing—which of course may have its flaws—pretty much worked, from her point of view.”

I think this is deeply wrong, and for all that, it is not an uncommon sentiment. You often hear this sort of argument when people complain about the byzantine procedures that colleges use to adjudicate charges of a racial or sexual nature, or when they argue that we should always presumptively believe any rape accusation: “Well, if they didn’t do that, the system will figure it out eventually, so what’s the big deal?”

This ignores the fact that the process itself can become the punishment. Sexual assault, racial harassment and similar crimes are serious charges, that should be treated seriously. This makes being charged with such an offense a very big deal for the accused. The judicial process is time consuming, often confusing, and scary. The accused may need to pay for legal advice, even though they often aren’t allowed to take counsel into the system with them. Then there’s the worry of knowing that however crazy the charge sounds to you, the campus judicial process may have very different ideas.

The campus system is, in its own way, especially punishing: The accused has limited rights, the system is opaque, and it’s hard to even know how other cases get resolved. The system cannot send you to jail, but it can expel you with a mark on your permanent transcript that will make it harder to get admitted elsewhere, or if you work for the school, start the wheels in motion to get you fired. These are not small punishments. Some of the system’s defenders say it does not need the same due process standards as a legal charge would, because it can’t result in prison time. But I doubt these defenders would be so sanguine about this Kafkaesque process if it were directed at them, threatening their futures.

Well, I predict that more lefty professors will experience this personally, and their views will change. Remember, the entire notion of academic freedom was boosted mostly to protect campus communists. Once lefties were fully in charge, their commitment to academic freedom evaporated. If lefties find themselves in the crosshairs again, I predict a newfound movement in favor of free speech and free thought.

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