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Will strengthening higher ed’s accountability on campus rape create ‘shadow’ justice system?

July 31, 2014 at 6:29 PM EST
Senators have proposed bipartisan legislation with steeper penalties for educational institutions that fail to investigate reports of sexual assault -- and some voices in higher ed are pushing back. Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss why the burden should fall on the criminal justice system, not colleges and universities.
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GWEN IFILL: One issue that did attract bipartisan support this week on Capitol Hill was a proposal to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses. Last night, we heard from two senators who sponsored the bill. But some in the world of higher education are pushing back.

Hari Sreenivasan explores some of that criticism.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Legislation would create steeper penalties for schools that fail to investigate reports of assault. It also features provisions to change the culture on some campuses, including requiring colleges and universities to designate confidential advisers who would provide support and information to victims. That includes guidance on how to report the crime to local law enforcement.

Universities would also have to conduct annual surveys about students’ experiences with sexual assault and publish those results online.

Anne Neal is the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

So, we have on the program because you don’t think this legislation will help solve what we know is a serious problem.

ANNE NEAL, American Council of Trustees and Alumni: Well, that’s right.

It is a serious problem. And we should all be deeply concerned about rape and sexual assault. But I think the question really is, where should the onus be to deal with this problem? This legislation and other actions that we have seen coming out of the Department of Education and from the vice president’s office would essentially put the onus on our colleges and universities.

And, quite frankly, we have a criminal justice system, we have police departments. And it’s our contention that that’s where the onus should lie. We have this criminal justice system. And rather than trying to make our colleges and universities an extension of law enforcement, let’s put the responsibility of where it should be in the police room and in the courts.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You have said that this actually duplicates reporting, that there are already laws on the books that say the universities have to report these crimes.

But, as Senator Claire McCaskill last night pointed out, that there seems to be a significant underreporting problem. Let’s take a listen.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-Mo.: The more startling statistic is that 40 percent of the college campuses in the country have not investigated a single case of sexual assault in five years. And we know that this is a silent epidemic on our college campuses.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Your response to that?

ANNE NEAL: Well, I think, again, we want transparency, and we clearly want universities to report what’s happening.

But our experience has been that, if you allow shadow justice systems on the campus, or if you allow the information to stay on that campus, rather than going to enforcement authorities, that you’re more likely to have the university hiding what’s happening than being forthright about it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is the shadow system, just for folks out there that haven’t been paying attention?

ANNE NEAL: Well, again, in this, you see that we have a system which has investigators trained on college campuses, bureaucracies that are envisioned by this legislation that would require folks on our university campuses essentially to be investigators, jurors, executioners.

They’re the ones that are going to be looking into alleged violations. And what we’re saying is that colleges and universities are many things and they have many expertise, but engaging in law enforcement is not one of them, and that’s why it’s so important that we insist that the alleged victims report their problems to law enforcement, and that the university make it very clear that that is where the onus lies.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, are you concerned as Senator Kelly Ayotte was on the program last night, about the self-policing problem, at some of these universities, justice is not being served with their own infrastructures in place?

And let’s take a listen to the clip.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, R-N.H.: It’s being investigated inconsistently.

We also found that, in some instances, athletic departments were investigating them, which is totally inappropriate. There needs to be the best practices, full investigation. And, obviously, victims need to be supported, which is not happening.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Your response?

ANNE NEAL: That absolutely supports the point that the colleges and universities are not equipped to do good investigations and essentially to be asked to be law enforcement officials.

That’s why we think the proper focus is in our police departments and our courts, which is where students should go. If they have been raped, if there has been a sexual assault, it needs to be treated as a crime. This will allow us then to give colleges and universities time to do what they do well, which is not serving as law enforcement, but in dealing with education.

I think it’s important to remember that the sexual assault problem that we’re seeing doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and it in large part is because of a lack of academic seriousness on our college campuses, whether it’s curricula that are anything goes, heavy drinking that we see, binge drinking that we hear about a lot, the fact that many students start school on Tuesdays and end school on Thursdays.

Is it any wonder that we have a drinking problem and the sexual assault that comes with it?  And it’s time our academic administrators start focusing on the educational problems and not be forced into this difficult position for which they’re not equipped to be law enforcement officials on their campuses.

HARI SREENIVASAN: How much of your concern is cost-driven, in terms of how much it will cost to let’s say roll out the survey every year or train the confidential advisers?

ANNE NEAL: Very good question. And I think this is a serious, serious concern for colleges and universities.

We know President Obama has regularly raised concern about the rising cost of colleges and universities. And so I think we have to ask ourselves, what are things that colleges and universities are equipped and prepared to do, and therefore to bear those costs?  And what would it be better for other institutions and other organizations to do?

And I think this is exactly one of those. Let’s put colleges and universities back in focusing on education, rather than having to expend vast resources, which are quite limited, as we all know, on training of the various bureaucrats who are going to have to be dealing with students, training trauma advisers, training Title IX coordinators?

I mean, the list of various bureaucrats that we are going to be adding to our college campus grows on and on, at a time when we’re already seeing administrative costs skyrocket.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Anne Neal is the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Thanks so much.

ANNE NEAL: Thank you.