Big Government and the Campus Rape Controversy

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The “revolving door” through which government officials cash out on their public service has a new destination—campus rape investigations.

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To the list of defense contractors recruiting retiring Pentagon officials, corporate law firms hiring former SEC and Justice Department officials, and trade associations signing up former senators, add another new hot recruiting field for the private sector. Universities are snapping up employees with experience related to the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which is in charge of enforcing Title IX

of the Education Amendments of 1972.

That law is best known for boosting the presence of women’s sports on college campuses, spawning a sports-bra company of the same name. Lawyers with experience related to the federal Office of Civil Rights are in high demand at the moment, though, not because of any ability coaching undergraduate soccer players or designing athletic apparel. Rather, they are being sought after for their ability to coach college administrators through the legal mine field that is the latest guidance from the Obama administration on “Title IX and Sexual Violence.”

Later this month, Valerie Simons will start a $150,000-a-year job as Title IX coordinator at the University of Colorado. The Boulder Daily Camera reports that Simons “served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Education Section, where she was the lead attorney in charge of enforcing Title IX and other civil rights laws around the U.S.” In her new position, she will report directly to the university’s chancellor.

In May of this year, Stanford announced that Catherine Criswell would join that university as its Title IX coordinator after a 19-year career at the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Harvard last year hired as its Title IX coordinator Mia Karvonides, another Department of Education Office of Civil Rights lawyer; a Harvard memo at the time reported by the Boston Globe reported that her “duties at the Office of Civil Rights included investigating post-secondary and elementary/secondary institutions for compliance with Title IX. “

More such hires are on the way. The University of Missouri

announced last month that it will add a full-time Title IX coordinator and an investigator to deal with sexual assault cases. And Harvard will hire what a New York Times article

described as an in-house, on-campus “team of investigators” to follow-up on complaints of sexual assault or harassment.

The Obama administration has stepped up pressure on the universities. President Obama convened a task force to prevent sexual assault on campus, and in May the Department of Education took the unusual step of releasing to the public a list of 55 educational institutions “under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.”

Rape and sexual assault are serious crimes, which is why they carry severe penalties under local criminal laws that govern such issues. It’s not clear that applying a new overlay of sex discrimination law will help. A 53-page “guidance document” issued April 29 by the education department, which the assistant secretary of education for civil rights, Catherine Lhamon, recommends “should be read in full,” mandates a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for Title IX investigations, which is a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” necessary to obtain a criminal conviction.

There is no shortage of interpretive frameworks through which to view these developments. Some may see a story about a decline of sexual ethics linked to the cultural unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some may see a story about the decline of college campuses, which have become a place where parents pay tens of thousands of dollars a year (or students go deep into debt) for their children to be assaulted or in some cases falsely accused of assault.

Another way to view it is that this is less of a story about sex or violence or higher education than it is a story about big government. The colleges facing the Department of Education aren’t all that different from health insurance or drug companies trying to navigate Obamacare, or hedge funds trying to comply with insider trading rules, or banks trying to obey Dodd-Frank. In all these cases, the rules set by Washington are so vague, complex, and arbitrarily enforced that nearly the only way to understand them—let alone avoid running afoul of them—is to hire as a guide a former official with the relationships and knowledge developed while working for the government.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.

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