Oregon President Weighs In on Blackface Findings

The president of the University of Oregon, Michael H. Schill (right), has weighed in on the continuing controversy over Nancy Shurtz, a law professor whom the university found violated anti-harassment policies when she wore blackface to a party to which she had invited students. Since the university in December announced its findings that she had violated policy, many experts on the First Amendment and academic freedom have criticized the university, saying that it should not be punishing what was an expressive act by Shurtz, regardless of how offended many people were by her act.

In an email message to the campus, Schill -- who is a law professor as well as president -- acknowledged that the issues are complicated. While stressing that under Oregon's procedures, the provost was in charge of handling the case, Schill defended the idea that some sanction of Shurtz was appropriate. "Some of her students felt that they were in a similar situation to students in a classroom being subjected to harassing speech, as they felt pressure to attend and to remain at the event. They felt that they could not leave without jeopardizing their standing in the class, and they also felt that the offensive nature of the blackface was the equivalent of hearing the N-word," Schill wrote. "In these circumstances, should the university have ignored the event or should it have taken action proportionate to the offense? What lesson would we be teaching our students if we let the incident end without even an official letter of reprimand?"

Further, he denied that academic freedom was endangered because of the university's handling of the case, as some have suggested.

"Some commentators have taken to the barricades and suggested that any finding or action taken with respect to Professor Shurtz will ultimately open the door to firing professors for expressing their political views," he wrote. "Really? In law, we call this the 'slippery slope' argument or 'the parade of horribles.' While I have tossed and turned for nights over the fact that the university found that a professor’s expressive conduct constituted harassment, I think the reaction of those commentators is overly dramatic and not supported by anything that took place in this case. Go online and you will find that Professor Shurtz remains a member of the law school faculty. Name a single faculty member who has been punished by the provost for his or her political views. This has not happened, and you have my vow it won’t happen as long as I occupy my office in Johnson Hall."

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U British Columbia Restores Invitation to Speaker

The University of British Columbia announced Monday that it has reinstated the speaking engagement of John Furlong at a fund-raising event next month.

Santa Ono, president of the university, last week apologized to John Furlong for the cancellation of a speech he was scheduled to give. Furlong was CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games and was widely praised for his work to make the event a success. But when word spread that he was going to speak at the UBC event, some First Nations groups (those representing indigenous Canadians) circulated an open letter criticizing the appearance. The letter cited allegations -- which Furlong has denied and that have been rejected by authorities -- that he was abusive to First Nations children he taught at a school in 1969 and 1970.

In announcing that Furlong would be speaking, Ono said, "I have made it my decision as president of the university to reverse course because it is simply the right thing to do. I decided this after better informing myself with the facts, including Mr. Furlong’s stellar reputation in the fields of business, leadership and sport, the diverse views of our many stakeholders, and, as importantly, the judicial record. The British Columbia Civil and Supreme Courts have ruled in favor of Mr. Furlong in every matter that has come before them. The university had no basis to put its judgment above theirs."

The university's original decision to cancel the event with Furlong has been widely criticized in Canada.

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Anthropologists Seek to Protect Academic Freedom

The American Anthropological Association established a Rapid Response Network on Academic Freedom and affiliated with Scholars at Risk to strengthen its commitment to free inquiry, it announced Monday. The response network is a diverse advisory group of anthropologists with scholarly expertise on academic freedom issues, to be chaired by Marc Edelman, professor of anthropology at Hunter College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. Scholars at Risk is an international nonprofit that works to protect threatened scholars and promote academic freedom.

“The pattern of events in the U.S. and around the world in 2016 indicates a gathering storm that threatens the academic freedom of anthropologists and other academics,” Alisse Waterston, association president and professor of anthropology at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said in a statement. “Historically, these threats have been most effectively mitigated when scholarly and professional associations like ours have investigated and spoken out against attacks on academic freedom.”

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Amherst Acts on Probe of Cross-Country Team

Amherst College announced Monday that it has imposed suspensions on some but not all members of the men's cross-country team. The actions follow reports -- confirmed by the college -- that some members of the team engaged in offensive online communication, denigrating some students and groups of individuals. The investigation confirmed that some team members had substantial involvement, others minimal involvement and others none at all. As a result, "several individuals" were suspended from the team, for lengths of time ranging from three athletic contests to the rest of their time at the college. All team members must go through an educational program.

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Embattled Charlotte School of Law to Reopen

Charlotte School of Law will reopen this semester despite losing access to federal financial aid, The Charlotte Observer reported. The for-profit law school is on probation with its accreditor, the American Bar Association, for problems with its admissions policies, curriculum and bar exam passage rates. Last month the U.S. Department of Education suspended the law school's access to federal aid, citing its accreditation problems and that the school had made misrepresentations to students.

The school last week told students that it would reopen, with classes beginning next week. Without access to federal aid, the school said on its website that students might need to explore "bridge financing" such as private loans.

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ACICS-Accredited Colleges Meet Federal Deadline

The U.S. Department of Education last month finalized its decision to terminate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a controversial national accrediting agency that oversaw Corinthian Colleges, ITT and other failed for-profits.

Before the end of December, all remaining ACICS institutions filed paperwork with the department to retain their federal aid eligibility for 18 months while seeking a new accreditor, the department said this week. The roughly 245 colleges collectively received $4.76 billion in federal aid during 2015.

Ted Mitchell, the U.S. under secretary of education, said in an interview that he was encouraged by the transition process so far for ACICS-accredited colleges.

“The institutions are taking their responsibilities seriously,” he said. “We’re working to make this transition as successful as possible.”

Most of the colleges have begun seeking approval from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, a national accrediting agency. Michale McComis, the commission’s executive director, said last week that 180 ACICS-accredited institutions have formally initiated the process. He expects that number to grow to 210 colleges by the end of January.

Some experts on for-profit higher education have predicted that substantial numbers of ACICS-accredited institutions will fail to find a new agency home within 18 months. One higher education lawyer said that challenge remains, and that the department had overplayed its celebration of ACICS institutions successfully completing their federal aid extension paperwork.

Mitchell, however, said the process of getting roughly 245 institutions to sign provisional Program Participation Agreements was complex and required collaboration between the feds and ACICS-approved colleges. The agreements include monitoring and reporting requirements the department said are intended to protect taxpayers and students.

In addition, Mitchell said he was confident that well-run institutions among the group “will have the time to secure accreditation.”

ACICS has sued to block the department’s decision to de-recognize the accreditor. A judge last month denied a request from ACICS for a temporary injunction.

It’s unclear if the incoming Trump administration would be able to overturn the department’s move to eliminate ACICS, or if it would seek to try.

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Universities are not competent to judge student rape cases (essay)

The New York Times recently featured a front-page story that focused on Stanford University’s procedures for adjudicating on-campus rapes, implicitly criticizing the university for demanding that its hearing board reach a unanimous decision of guilt before disciplining any student offender. The university, which disputed the article, seemed to suggest that anything less would be unfair to the accused rapist.

But it is not the demand for unanimity that is offensive, but the very idea that the university -- any university -- is competent to hear such a case. Such procedural details are not the problem, and suggesting that they are is both a distraction and an implicit acceptance of the notion that Stanford is competent to judge such matters. The simple fact is that universities have no business hearing such cases in the first place. Notwithstanding concerns for Title IX, they should never have been allowed to pursue the matter -- at least not exclusively or without full disclosure to the alleged victim of the downsides of pursuing such a course of action. For, by doing so, they both compromise justice and public safety, as well as inadvertently legitimize the stigma of rape itself.

Stanford and all other institutions of higher learning are woefully unprepared to handle the complexity of rape cases, lacking sophisticated evidentiary processes, forensic skills and the compulsory force of the law required of such cases. University hearings are invariably shrouded in secrecy, lack transparency, fail to produce an accessible transcript or mechanism for appeal, and are riddled with procedural quirks and flaws that range widely not only from campus to campus but also from administration to administration. There is little standardization and ample room for chicanery, backroom deals and institutional bias. Neither the accuser nor the accused enjoy the rights accorded by a court of law and the Constitution. For both sides in such a tribunal, due process matters.

Over the years, both as a journalist researching a book and articles, and as a professor comforting students who have been traumatized, I have interviewed more than a dozen young women who have said they were raped on their campuses. What they all have in common is the sense that they were twice victimized: once by the rapist, once by the university that heard their case. Many complain of the suffocating secrecy to which they were subjected. Others say they were banned from introducing the cases of other women who claim that they, too, were raped by the assailant. Still others say that even when the rapist is judged to be guilty, the punishment is often laughably lax -- a term suspension, an essay, official censure. And even those who are thrown out of college start with a clean slate -- the record of their rape shielded from public view and the next institution that accepts them. The criminal court is armed with forensics and must take into account the safety and well-being of the greater community. In contrast, the campus hearing is often a he said, she said spectacle that looks no further than the status of two students.

Such hearings reflect a measure of university hubris, a presumption that higher education officials are up to the task. And why rape? Why not murder? Why not arson? No campus in the nation would suggest that these other crimes go unreported or that a body of deans and other administrators are qualified to hear such cases. A university has as much authority and insight handling a rape case as a prosecutor and detective have drafting learning objectives and curricular requirements.

Let’s state the obvious, although apparently not so obvious to universities: rape is a felony, a crime of the most severe order that can and does on occasion lead to felony murder and that invariably produces lasting psychological, if not physical, scars. Many of the alleged perpetrators are not students who have merely gone astray and who need to be disciplined or counseled. They are dangerous criminals, predatory creatures who are likely to strike again -- and often do. The university hearing mechanism is ideal for trying cases of cheating, plagiarism, vandalism or harassment. They are well suited for meting out penalties that range from a loss of academic credit to expulsion. But rape is several orders of magnitude above such offenses, and the first order of business after a finding of guilt is to remove the offender from the community and place that person behind bars. A number of the women whom I interviewed later found themselves in classes with their assailants.

Of course, universities say they are acting out of the sui generis nature of rape, that the trauma of the crime necessitates special handling. Many women do not want to come forward after an assault, fearing the public attention, the spectacle of a trial, the delving into their sexual history, the cross-examination phase and the like. And yes, many rapes on and off campus go unreported.

But the accommodation that universities make for rape victims only exposes other potential victims to the assault down the line, and in most cases, university rape counselors are instructed to listen, comfort and advise but not to encourage the women to report the crime to the police. They merely mention it as one of many options. That may sound sensitive and enlightened, but among the women I have interviewed, a number say they were not the first victims of the attacker.

I would argue that universities have an affirmative obligation to make clear to the victim that, while they will respect their choice, there could be consequences for other people if the crime goes unreported. Universities are, after all, a part of a broader community.

And not all universities are acting solely out of compassion or magnanimity. They have their own unspoken interests in the outcome. No university wants to be associated with rape or have its reputation as a safe haven for young people undermined. They are required to submit so-called Clery reports of serious crimes to the U.S. Department of Education, and these are a matter of public record. But compliance with the reporting requirements is uneven and sometimes subject to discretion and abuse.

Other interests are at work, as well. Nothing frightens away potential applicants faster than a rash of on-campus rapes. While never overtly stated, concerns about protecting the reputation of the university for its prospective candidates, parents and donors is often just below the surface.

What’s more, universities -- particularly those whose robust athletic programs enjoy television revenues, bowl games and appearances in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament -- have a definite pecuniary interest in maintaining the eligibility of their star athletes. For Stanford, the game is football, and yes, the young man accused of rape in the most recent case is a player on that vaunted team -- currently ranked among the nation’s top 20. At such institutions, the marquee sports are cash cows that help fund other athletic programs and draw additional applicants, and are a recruiting magnet for future standout athletes. A rape case involving a member of any such team can have a devastating impact on the program.

And it is no secret the celebrity and ego that goes with being a star or big man on campus has produced more than its share of offenders. But because the hearing process is shrouded in secrecy, it is virtually impossible to determine to what degree, if any, the athletic department has brought pressure on the process.

Great universities like Stanford put their integrity at risk when they conduct themselves in secrecy and handle matters that are beyond their rightful purview. They raise the specter of hypocrisy each time they conduct such hearings. It matters not that the participants in such hearings are earnest or that they do their homework. Rape transcends the abilities of such forums and is trivialized by the notion that it can be dealt with by a committee lacking any of the complex apparatus that has evolved to handle serious criminal matters.

The complexities of such cases test the limits of the criminal justice system and the wisdom of jurors guided by judges, the rules of evidence, the demands of the Sixth and Fourth Amendments, the appellate procedures, forensic materials, and on and on. Whether the university tribunal’s standard is unanimity or majority vote, the underlying measure is still merely “a preponderance of the evidence” -- a simple “more likely than not” rule that falls far short of the criminal court’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” And how much less able are the stewards of a college campus, tainted by their aversion to publicity and the potential for self-interest, to adequately discharge the responsibilities of a rape hearing?

A university is on solid ground in respecting the rights of rape victims to choose their forum and to decide where and how and whether they will pursue such matters. But it ought not delude itself into overestimating its abilities nor imagine that it is protecting the campus and wider community by meeting, as it does, behind closed doors. It is undeniably in a terribly difficult position -- balancing the wishes of the victim, the rights of the alleged assailant and the safety of the community -- but it is neither disinterested nor professionally competent to stand in judgment of such matters.

Its responsibilities to the administration of justice, to the well-being of the community and to the safety of other students dictates that it advise rape victims that theirs is not the only interest at stake; that the university is no substitute for criminal court; that the privacy and discretion they gain by allowing the university to handle the matter without the intervention of the courts may be outweighed by the secrecy, caprice and lack of professionalism encountered in a campus hearing; and finally, that there are profound and compelling societal reasons why they should at least consider taking the matter to the police -- namely, that rapists belong behind bars, not on suspension or in the classroom.

Ted Gup is a Boston-based author and journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, National Review and New Republic. Last semester, he taught at both Emerson College and Brown University; this spring, he will be writer in residence at Durham University in Great Britain.

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University of Southern California creates new Center on Race and Equity

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The University of Southern California will bring the University of Pennsylvania's Shaun Harper to campus, as well as several of Penn's initiatives, with big plans for a nationwide campus climate survey.

Historians make predictions and recommendations and explore their role in the Trump era

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Diversity Group Urges Senate to Reject Sessions

The American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity on Saturday released a letter urging the U.S. Senate to reject President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general. The group includes many campus diversity and equal opportunity officers, and the letter highlighted a Sessions quote on affirmative action from 1997. At the time, he said, "I think it has, in fact, been a cause of irritation and perhaps has delayed the kind of movement to racial harmony we ought to be going forward [with] today. I think it makes people unhappy if they lost a contract or a right to go to a school or a privilege to attend a university simply because of their race." The diversity group's letter says that Sessions has continued to espouse such views, in particular when rejecting some of President Obama's judicial nominees. This view, the group says, distorts affirmative action in implying that colleges are accepting or rejecting candidates based on race alone.

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