Tag: political correctness

Due Process Stops at the Campus Gates?

People in the D.C. area maye be familiar with the tragic tale of Fairfax teacher Sean Lanigan, who was falsely accused of sexual molestation, resulting in termination and a destroyed reputation.  As pointed out by friend of Cato and Cato Supreme Court Review contributor Hans Bader, however, the Department of Education is pushing a policy that would allow for more Sean Lanigans, even in cases not involving anything close to rape or molestation:

If the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has its way, more teachers like him will end up being fired even if they are acquitted by a jury of any wrongdoing.  It sent a letter to school officials on April 4 ordering them to lower the burden of proof they use when determining whether students or staff are guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault.   According to the Department of Education’s demands, schools must find people guilty if there is a mere 51% chance that they are guilty – a so-called preponderance of the evidence standard.   So if an accused is found not guilty under a higher burden of proof – like the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that applies in criminal cases – the accused will still be subject to disciplinary action under the lower burden of proof dictated by the Education Department.

As Wendy Kaminer explains, the DoE would also like to strip the accused of their right to cross-examination:

Campus investigations and hearings involving harassment or rape charges are notoriously devoid of concern for the rights of students accused; “kangaroo courts” are common, and OCR ‘s letter seems unlikely to remedy them. Students accused of harassment should not be allowed to confront (or directly question) their accusers, according to OCR, because cross-examination of a complainant “may be traumatic or intimidating.” (Again, elevating the feelings of a complainant over the rights of an alleged perpetrator, who may have been falsely accused, reflects a presumption of guilt.) Students may be represented by counsel in disciplinary proceedings, at the discretion of the school, but counsel is not required, even when students risk being found guilty of sexual assaults (felonies pursuant to state penal laws) under permissive standards of proof used in civil cases, standards mandated by OCR.

Now, it is undoubtedly extraordinarily difficult for a rape victim to face her attacker, but lowering the standards under which someone is judged for that crime and not allowing the accused to question his accuser opens the door to using accusation as a weapon, just as in Lanigan’s case or that of the Duke lacrosse team.  Justice (what lawyers call “due process”) demands, among other things, that both accuser and accused have their day in court, and that there be a presumption of innocence.  It is no more just for an innocent person to be smeared and forever tarnished – if not convicted and imprisoned – than it is to let a guilty man go free.  Indeed, as Blackstone famously said, “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” 

What’s more, as Foundation for Individual Rights in Education president Greg Lukianoff details, it’s not just accused rapists whose rights are prejudiced under the new OCR policy, but those who make bad jokes:

California State University–Monterey policies state that sexual harassment “may range from sexual innuendoes made at inappropriate times, perhaps in the guise of humor, to coerced sexual relations.” UC Berkeley lists “humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable” as harassment. Alabama State University lists “behavior that causes discomfort, embarrassment or emotional distress” in its harassment codes. Iowa State University states that harassment “can range from unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people to serious physical abuses such as sexual assault.”

This disconnect between basic principles of free speech and due process creates what Lukianoff calls “a perfect storm for rights violations”:

By making it clear that OCR would be aggressively pursuing harassment claims, by mandating extensive changes to many universities’ due process protections, but not requiring universities to adopt a uniform standard for harassment, OCR has supercharged the power of existing campus speech codes. OCR could have done our nation’s colleges a favor if it required universities to adopt a uniform definition of harassment in the same breath as it required them to aggressively police it.

FIRE has done heroic work in protecting student rights, so you should really read all of Lukianoff’s indictment of the new policy. 

The Department of Education needs to rescind/clarify this mess.  Speech is not a crime, but even the rights of those accused of crimes should not be subordinated to misplaced compassion or political correctness.

Local Government Stupidity Contest

This post could be entitled, “So many bad decisions, so little time,” but let’s have some fun and turn it into a contest. Which bone-headed decision by a local government best exemplifies mindless bureaucracy, politically correct nonsense, and government waste?

Contestant Number One is an officer of the Baltimore County Natural Resources Police, who fined two men $90 each for the vicious, horrible, nasty crime of … (please don’t faint) … rescuing a deer. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. Two hardened criminals used an inflatable raft to free a helpless animal, but they flouted the law by not wearing life jackets. Since I already did a blog post about a man being fined for rescuing a wounded deer, I guess the moral of the story is that bureaucrats don’t like Bambi.

Contestant Number Two is the Metro Police in Washington, DC, which has decided to harass random travelers by searching their bags before they board the subway. This is akin to the TSA’s mindless bureaucracy - but even worse. There surely are nut-jobs who would like to blow up Americans, but they could do that on a bus, on a crowded street during rush hour, or any other place where a large number of people are gathered. Heck, they can drive a car into a crowd. Good intelligence by the CIA and FBI is the way to stop these crackpots, not empty security theater that makes life more difficult for law-abiding people.

Contestant Number Three is the St. Paul School District in Minnesota, which has turned all schools into “sweet-free zones.” This ban also applies to salty foods, however that is defined, and deals “a blow to booster clubs and parent organizations, too, which won’t be able to sell hot chocolate, doughnuts, candy bars and cookies at school events.” I actually agree with Michelle Obama that American kids are overweight, but I also know that government intervention isn’t going to solve the problem unless we want a police state that bans video games, TVs, computers, and the other technological developments that are responsible for sedentary kids.

Contestant Number Four is Battlefield High School, in Haymarket, VA, which disciplined 10 unrepentant gang members. What did these thugs do to warrant detention? Brace yourself and make sure no children are looking over your shoulders, because these hoodlums belong to a particularly nasty group called the Christmas Sweater Club and they got in trouble for handing out miniature candy canes. One school administrator (Mrs. Grinch?)  explained that “not everyone wants Christmas cheer,” thus turning Jay Leno’s parody into reality.

So who wins the prize? The only thing we can really conclude is that governments do dumb things. That’s true at the national level, the state level, and the local level.

I just wish I could write like Dave Barry. He had a hilarious column many years ago that was based on various examples of government stupidity. This post is more likely to make you cry rather than laugh, which is not good at this time of year.

Tip Your Hat to Government

This is not a story from The Onion

The Associated Press reports that a school in Rhode Island prohibited eight-year-old David Morales from wearing a hat that he decorated with toy soldiers that…gasp…had tiny little plastic weapons. According to school administrators, the hat violates a “no weapons” policy.

Here’s the relevant section of the report:

Christan Morales said her son just wanted to honor American troops when he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and small plastic Army figures. But the school banned the hat because it ran afoul of the district’s zero-tolerance weapons policy. Why? The toy soldiers were carrying tiny guns. “His teacher called and said it wasn’t appropriate,” Morales said. Morales’ 8-year-old son, David, had been assigned to make a hat for the day when his second-grade class would meet their pen pals from another school. She and her son came up with an idea to add patriotic decorations to a camouflage hat. Earlier this week, after the hat was banned, the principal at the Tiogue School in Coventry told the family that the hat would be fine if David replaced the Army men holding weapons with ones that didn’t have any, according to Superintendent Kenneth R. Di Pietro.

I’m not sure what to say about this, other than to link to Neal’s PA.

Fort Hood and Political Correctness

This morning, Politico Arena asks:

The Fort Hood tragedy: Why does it matter, or not, what we call it? Is it being politicized?

My response:

If we want to be technical, what we call the Fort Hood massacre matters, and James Taranto got it right in Monday’s Wall Street Journal:  It was not a terrorist attack, targeting noncombatants, but an act of guerrilla warfare, carried out by one of our own in apparent contact with the enemy, and hence an act of treason.

But the deeper and far larger problem is why the Army didn’t act sooner against this man and, even more, why it is, as Dorothy Rabinowitz put it in yesterday’s Journal, that “the tide of pronouncements and ruminations pointing to every cause for this event other than the one obvious to everyone in the rational world continues apace.”  After all, it is not as if “the Hasan problem,” richly detailed elsewhere, were unknown to the Army.  So why was nothing done?  We all know why.  It was stated simply in an NPR report yesterday:  “A key official on a [Walter Reed] review committee reportedly asked how it might look to terminate a key resident who happened to be a Muslim.”  If this isn’t ”political correctness,” nothing is.

And it goes beyond the naive analyses that say we can do nothing about these kinds of problems.  It infects our very culture, from the newsroom to the college campus and far beyond, crippling sound analysis and judgment.  We learn just this morning, for example, again in the Journal, that the FBI may not have briefed the Army, or done so sufficiently (it’s unclear), about Hasan’s intercepted emails with Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Yemeni imam.  There may have been intelligence reasons for compartmenting that information.  But in other cases it is an obsession with privacy that cripples investigation, itself a species of political correctness.  Yet the conflicting “rights” at issue in risk contexts are never more than right claims until they’re delineated by statute or adjudication.  Too often, however, that obsession blinds us, including in our legislation and adjudication, to the rights on the other side.  After all, the 3,000 who died on 9/11 and the soldiers who died at Fort Hood had rights too.

The Fort Hood massacre cries out for further investigation.  But it must be clear-eyed and free from the prejudice that today is rightly called “political correctness.”