Sixteen University of Pennsylvania law professors have written a letter blasting the school’s sexual misconduct policy, arguing recent rule changes have made the process unfair to students accused of sexual assault.
In the letter, posted online by the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, the UPenn professors criticise policy guidelines from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for stripping away protections for accused students, as well as sidestepping the typical lawmaking process. One of the most controversial changes mandated by OCR is a lower burden of proof to find students “responsible” for sexual assault.
“As law teachers who instruct students on the basic principles of due process of law, proper administrative procedures, and rules of evidence designed to ensure reliable judgments, we are deeply concerned by these developments,” the Ivy League professors write.
The UPenn letter also critiques the university’s new procedures for sexual assault hearings, which no longer allow accused students to have a lawyer cross-examine witnesses. The professors write that these changes infringe on the “fundamental fairness” of the hearings:
We recognise that student disciplinary hearings are not criminal trials and therefore do not require all constitutional guarantees. What is required is fundamental fairness, including (1) the right to the assistance of counsel in preparation for and conduct of the hearing, (2) the right to cross-examine witnesses against the accused student and to present defence witnesses and evidence, and (3) the right to a fair and unbiased hearing panel.
In a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer, which first reported on the letter, a UPenn spokesperson defended the university’s sexual misconduct policy. “Penn developed the new process as a fair and balanced process to address the serious issue of sexual assault on campus and we believe the process responds appropriately to the federal government’s regulations and guidance,” the statement said.
UPenn is not the first Ivy League law school to have a group of professors publically attack the university’s sexual misconduct policies.
Twenty-eight current and former Harvard Law School professors wrote an op-ed in The Boston Globe in October calling on the university to withdraw its new sexual harassment and misconduct policy.
“[W]e find the new sexual harassment policy inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach,” the Harvard professors wrote.
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