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When committees play police
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If one believes even a significant fraction of the horror stories in the national news media, beastly male behavior has become almost epidemic on American college campuses. Tales of drunken sexual assaults and worse multiply from sea to shining sea.
Even the Obama administration is getting in on the act. Based upon the dubious claim that one in five college women is a victim of sexual assault -- if people really believed that, even "highly selective" schools couldn't keep their dorms filled -- there's now a "White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault."
Colleges are being warned to tighten up their procedures or face the consequences of violating women's civil rights. I fear that what this basically involves is more pointless committee work for professors ill-suited to conduct quasi-criminal investigations to begin with.
The struggle against what feminists call "rape culture" has become a defining theme on the left. Washington Post columnist George Will recently made himself a campus pariah by arguing that when progressives "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."
If the specific case that Will wrote about -- a Swarthmore student who got into bed with a former "hookup" partner, tired of fending off his advances, gave in so she could sleep, and then filed rape charges six months later -- certainly justified skepticism, his sneering tone offended many. The young woman subsequently appeared on CNN, where she spoke melodramatically of herself as a "survivor."
Meanwhile, Philadelphia magazine reports, little Swarthmore -- its 1,500-member student body filled with Honor Society grads -- experienced a sharp upsurge in sexual assault reports, from 11 in 2012 to 91 in 2013. It's unlikely that student behavior changed so dramatically over one year.
Clearly something else did.
A troubling incident was recently reported in exhaustive detail by Walt Bogdanich in the New York Times. The saga of Anna, an 18-year-old freshman at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, who has gone public about her alleged rape by several football players, can't help but make one wonder if academic institutions can be trusted to investigate serious felonies at all.
As my friend Craig Barnes commented in an online colloquy, "I've never understood how a felony offense can be investigated by anyone other than police. Can anyone explain that to me? Would an on-campus murder be investigated by the university?"
Two things you can count on with any academic committee: There are no set procedures and nobody's in charge.
In the end, they exonerated the jocks. Don't they always?
Obviously, neither trial by newspaper nor faculty committee will suffice. Nor can any White House Task Force remedy the heedless barbarism this dreary tale illustrates.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at