A group of Harvard Law School professors have called for the university to discontinue its new sexual misconduct policy, saying that the new procedures lack “basic elements of fairness and due process, [and] are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.”
An open letter, signed by 28 academics from the university and published in the Boston Globe, said: “As teachers responsible for educating our students about due process of law, the substantive law governing discrimination and violence, appropriate administrative decision-making, and the rule of law generally, we find the new sexual harassment policy inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach.”
The concerns raised in the letter included the failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused; the absence in the processes of an opportunity for an accused to confront witnesses or present a defense; and the adoption of rules that govern conduct between impaired students, which the letter describes as “starkly one-sided as between complainants and respondents, and entirely inadequate to address the complex issues in these unfortunate situations.”
The new policy was unveiled in July and hugely alters how the university deals with cases of sexual assault or misconduct, according to the Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper. A central office to investigate sexual misconduct has been created, and the burden of proof has been lowered from “sufficiently persuaded,” to “preponderance of the evidence."
Harvard student Savannah Fritz told the New York Times that the law professors’ protest was “a step backward.”
“It just seems like they’re defending those who are accused of sexual assault,” Fritz told the paper. “Harvard is trying to create these policies to protect those who need defending.” She said the policy was not perfect, but called it “a step in the right direction.”
Scott Berkowitz, founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an advocacy group that aids victims of sexual assault, told Bloomberg that an internal college system shouldn’t substitute for the criminal justice system on matters such as rape.
“Most schools’ internal judicial systems are the worst of both worlds,” Berkowitz said. “They don’t give the accused the protections of the criminal justice system, and they mistreat the victims, too.”
The federal government has been pushing all universities that receive public funds to adopt tougher policies to prevent sexual misconduct on campus. In addition, Harvard is one of more than 70 schools under investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases, according to Radio Boston.
Last month, California became the first state to adopt a 'Yes Means Yes' law to curb sexual assaults on college campuses. The new law requires affirmative consent to engage in sexual activity.
In a statement responding to the open letter, Harvard said that it was “confident that the policy and procedures meet their promise of a thoughtful, fair and consistent approach to these profoundly complex and sensitive situations."