Hacking Due Process

Due process at Stanford has been hacked. Again.

This time, instead of negotiating guilty verdicts, university officials were offering settlements behind closed doors. But, once again, the university has demonstrated to the Stanford community that its Title IX office more closely resembles a 16th century witch-hunt than Western court of law.

It bears repeating that Stanford currently faces five federal investigations into the mishandling of sexual assault and harassment by its Title IX office — the most of any university in the country. Because Stanford’s Title IX arbitration proceedings are rife with evidentiary malpractice, weak burdens of proof, and unsatisfying outcomes for all parties involved, both accusers and defendants of sexual misconduct have increasingly turned to the legal system for recourse. These reasons alone should have been enough to convince Stanford to overhaul its Title IX office.

But the allegations that the university offered over $60,000 to students to drop the complaints they filed with the U.S. Department of Education exposes just how bankrupt Title IX is. Stanford has taken it upon itself to play judge, jury, and executioner by groundlessly arbitrating sexual assault cases — and attempting to suppress federal investigations against it.

Settling a case, of course, is not itself a cause for concern. In civil cases, negotiations between the plaintiff and the defendant allow the latter to take financial responsibility for the costs its harmful actions caused the former. However, sexual assault is a criminal, not civil, charge, regardless of what the Department of Education thinks. As a university, Stanford has a moral as well as legal obligation to its students. Executing Title IX in a manner consistent with due process and protecting its students’ safety should far outweigh concerns about its public image.

Leah Francis, one of the sexual assault victims who Stanford approached with a settlement, desperately needs money to cover the costs of her therapy. Rather than adequately funding mental health on campus, Stanford has attempted her situation by forcing her to settle. Consequently, Stanford’s attempts to use settlements to halt federal investigations into its conduct suggest that it has presided over a miscarriage of justice that it has no intention of redressing. Financial compensation to students who have filed federal complaints against the Title IX office would be both reasonable and laudable — provided Stanford also took concrete steps to investigate and correct Title IX’s failings and allowed the Department of Education to do the same.

Yet, the fact that the university offered these settlements only if these students retracted their claims reveals that it plans to do nothing of the kind. The potential harm to future Stanford students that will result if the Title IX system is not reformed outweighs any short term benefit the settlements might have.

Besides a vague promise to spend2.7million dollars on sexual assault prevention that never clearly specified how the money will be allocated, there is no reason to believe that Stanford has seriously changed its approach to handling sexual assault on campus. Despite mounting federal investigations and more and more students exasperatedly turning to the court system for justice, the university has ignored overwhelming student and faculty support for a new campus-wide survey on sexual assault, tried to silence Professor Michele Dauber (who has spoken out against sexual assault and criticized the handling of the Brock Turner case), and continued disturbingly capricious arbitration proceedings. Each of these developments should have been enough to spur reform. Instead, this latest Title IX scandal suggests they only inspired the administration to obscure the issue and try to save face.

In the past, the Review’s calls for Stanford to protect due process in Title IX proceedings met with resistance. However, Stanford’s attempts to settle complaints behind closed doors demonstrate that due process concerns affect accusers and the accused alike. Title IX can only deliver justice when university investigations are fair, transparent, and consistent. Stanford must act like a true American court, not a shadowy corporate entity.

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