Police-state fear grips campuses

May 9, 1997

A JURY in Washington State recently awarded more than $1 million to a student who accused his college of passing on unverified allegations of rape.

The alleged victim, the accused's ex-girlfriend, eventually admitted to staff that no rape had occurred, and the student was never confronted. But Gonzaga University added the information to the innocent man's application for a teacher's certificate.

On the East Coast, a student is suing prestigious Brown University and the female student who, after she had drunk ten shots of alcohol, accused him of date rape. After a hearing, the university censured him for "sexual misconduct".

Adam Lack, who subsequently dropped out of Brown, said he was libelled and punished for a crime he did not commit.

The cases, with their loaded sexual politics, are the backdrop to the latest public row over campus crime. In recent years watchdog groups have accused universities of hushing up serious offences and putting student lives at risk, in an anti-crime drum beat that has attracted political support.

But college administrators say they risk turning learning centres into virtual police states. The two sides are at loggerheads over a bill that would open campus disciplinary proceedings to the public and press, which college officials say would backfire against both victim and the accused.

The 1997 Accuracy in Campus Crime Reporting Act (ACCRA) was co-sponsored this February by more than 30 congressmen, ranging from Massachusetts Democrat Joseph Kennedy to equally prominent Republicans.

It is the brain child of an activist group called Security on Campus, led by the parents of Jeanne Clery, who was raped and strangled at a Pennsylvania college. The college has since championed several female students who say their rape allegations were not taken seriously. The bill is also backed by the United States Society of Professional Journalists, as well as student newspaper associations.

It would require college staff to compile statistics of crime incidents from arson to assault. It would open police logs to public inspection. And, as Security on Campus announced, it "ends confidentiality for students accused of criminal activity, and opens the secret on-campus disciplinary proceedings, where administrators often divert students accused of criminal misconduct".

It is unclear how far ACCRA will get in this session of Congress.

SoC alleges that college officials routinely cover up. It cites internal documents at Miami University, for example, as evidence that staff were alerted to at least 29 rapes over a five-year period on campus, but officially reported only one third of them.

But opposition groups representing student and college administrators say the bill goes overboard, and they have jumped on its provisions to open details of campus crime to the media, including "inexperienced student journalists". Crime victims turn to the campus judicial system precisely because they want things settled quietly, they say.

"Wrongfully accused individuals, against whom there is insufficient information to make a formal charge, may be harmed by the reckless release of this information," said Gwendolyn Dungy, director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, in a letter to Congress. "Schools must protect the privacy rights of victims and the accused."

"Are we going to turn the campus over to the campus police?" asked Don Gehring, director of the doctoral programme in higher education administration at Bowling Green University. "It's going to have a hell of a chilling effect on women who've been assaulted.

"What about an 18-year-old kid who is picked up for public intoxication? Is that going to follow him for the rest of his life?"

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