In Response to: 'Fully Compliant'

The Office for Civil Rights-mandated changes in University sexual-misconduct policies are not all good. Implementation of OCR policies at the University of Michigan caused sexual-misconduct complaints to rise from two and three in 2009 and 2010 to 68 in 2011, and the number continues to climb. If it was too difficult to file a complaint when clear and persuasive evidence was required, then it is now too easy. 

“Preponderance of evidence,” as implemented at Michigan, favors a complainant and discriminates against a respondent because sexual-misconduct complaints are confidential. A respondent has no defense and cannot provide evidence when he or she isn’t allowed to know the complaint. Further, at Michigan, “preponderance of evidence” often is determined by a single professional acting in the combined role of solicitor, prosecutor, investigator, judge, and jury — a professional with little experience in education who is employed, directly or indirectly, to find misconduct.

There is a political element, too, when faculty encourage students to complain about other faculty. Professors are considered to have power over students, mediation is not allowed in sexual-harassment cases, and few professors can afford the OCR-mandated risk that mentoring now entails. We all lose in an environment like this. Management of sexual misconduct is a deeper and more difficult problem than might appear at first sight. Fairness, whatever the cost, is essential to maintain the core educational mission at Princeton and every leading university.

Philip D. Gingerich ’68