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A war on college men

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published Sept.28, 2015

A war on college men

Is Congress waging a war on college men? It's starting to look like it.

This month, Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, suggested that even innocent students should be booted from campus if they were accused of sexual assault. According to Polis: "If there are 10 people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people."

So one of the longstanding traditions of American law — that it is better to let 10 guilty men go free than to imprison one innocent — has now been turned on its head. Under the Polis standard, it's basically the other way around.

According to Polis, it's not such a big deal: "We're not talking depriving them of life and liberty, we're talking about their transfer to another university, for crying out loud," Polis said, laughing off the idea that his suggestion would violate due process rights. He is not alone in taking the due process rights of the accused lightly, a widely-backed Democratic senate bill is just more circumspect.

But it's no laughing matter. A student with expulsion for sexual assault on his record will have great difficulty gaining admission to another college, with life-altering consequences. (If you don't believe that, then you don't think that college matters much, which is something I doubt higher education boosters want to maintain.) And even if he succeeds, the expulsion will affect his chances for employment for the rest of his life, too.

As UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh notes, Polis's approach suggests that he doesn't think the rights of the accused are very important at all: "Now I should say that there are certain positions where indeed a whiff of suspicion might be enough to get someone removed. I just hadn't thought that being a college student would or should be one of them."

Plus, as Volokh also notes, Polis's approach punishes the innocent without doing much about the guilty: "And that's especially so when the policy is defended on the grounds that the students will just go to another university. The innocent expelled students would have their education badly disrupted and delayed. But the guilty students would ... just be at another university, where they'll be able to attack their classmates (just a different set of classmates)."

The main result of adopting Polis's approach would be to create — since we all know this policy is aimed at male students, and almost exclusively enforced against them by a university "diversity" bureaucracy in which men are wildly underrepresented — a hostile educational environment for male students. As the Pope Center for Higher Education, which conducted a study of gender representation among "gender equity enforcers," found, "Considering that the overwhelming preponderance of sexual harassment allegations are directed by women at men, the disproportion of women to men in the positions charged with interpreting and enforcing the sexual harassment rules is a legitimate concern. Are male students who are accused of sexual harassment likely to receive fair-minded treatment in these offices?"

If even a false accusation of sexual assault is grounds for expulsion, the result is to burden student sex lives with fear. That's doubly so when the enforcers are so heavily non-male. Men who fear that they may be so targeted — and remember, you don't even have to have dated a woman to be falsely accused — cannot possibly enjoy college in a normal fashion.

The funny thing is that the law under which all of this is transpiring, the federal Title IX antidiscrimination law, is supposed to prevent the creation of just such a hostile educational environment based on sex. ("No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.") Yet — seemingly with all calculation — Jared Polis and his congressional colleagues seem eager to do just that.

If any other minority were being treated this way — and, on college campuses, men are very much a minority these days — we would not hesitate to call that treatment discrimination, and to assume that it was rooted in prejudice and bigotry. So why has the war on college men gotten a pass?

Previously:
09/28/15 Ignore Trump if you want. But don't deny the lessons of other parts of the world facing an immigration crisis
08/21/15 Fast moving bad news builds prosperity
08/14/15 Trump indicts America's ruling class
08/07/15 Politicos put past before progress
07/15/15 When party outsiders feel ignored, a champion appears to take their interests to heart --- or at least sounds as if he does
07/08/15 Are happier lawyers, cheaper legal fees on the horizon?

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.

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