Swarthmore College has vacated the findings of a campus judicial process that led to a lawsuit that charged the college with gender-based discrimination against male students accused of sexual misconduct.
The federal judge in the case then agreed to a joint motion from the college and the student (identified only as John Doe) to dismiss the lawsuit, one of several filed by men under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The suits charge that colleges -- facing intense pressure from female students and the U.S. Education Department to crack down on sexual assault -- are violating the rights of male students accused of misconduct.
The dismissal of the case does not address the Title IX complaint, but it does represent a dramatic shift for Swarthmore, which has been fighting off the lawsuit and defending the conduct of its investigation and findings in the case.
The joint motion for dismissal said that after the student was expelled and the college president denied his appeal, "additional information became available which both parties believe raises questions about the impartiality of the college judiciary committee panel that heard John’s case. On the basis of this new information, John has requested that the college vacate the panel’s findings and sanction. The college agrees that the new information raises sufficient questions about the fairness of the hearing to warrant vacating the panel’s findings and sanction."
The former student would be required to have the case heard under the campus judicial system before being eligible to return. But the joint statement says that he has since enrolled at another college and has "no intention" of seeking to return to Swarthmore.
The former student's lawsuit charged that there were numerous flaws in Swarthmore's handling of the case, including that an investigation first concluded that he had done nothing wrong, but that the finding was reopened after the college was accused by students of failing to properly investigate sexual assault allegations -- and the Education Department launched an inquiry into those charges. The student's expulsion, the suit said, was a result of all the outside attention, and not the merits of the case. (Much of the lawsuit -- full text available here -- details that timing, and the college's responses before and after it was accused of ignoring sexual assault issues.)
The lawsuit also said that the charges were brought 19 months after the alleged interaction occurred, that the women who brought the charges admitted to consensual sexual intercourse with the student after the two alleged incidents (which did not involve intercourse), and that the actions against him violated several of the college's rules about timely hearings and due process.
Swarthmore issued this statement in response to questions about the case: "While the terms of the agreement do not allow us to discuss it in any detail, we can say that over the past 18 months we have been working hard to make sure our student conduct procedures are as fair as we can make them for all parties involved. In fact, our procedures have changed quite significantly since John Doe's case was first heard. They are now presided by a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and trial court judge who has presided over numerous cases involving sexual assault, and who now serves as an experienced outside adjudicator. We do believe that, if we are made aware of new information that could affect a student conduct decision, it is the right thing to do to re-evaluate."