Scripps College, George Will, and Sexual Assault
As many of you now know, George Will was recently disinvited from speaking this coming February at Scripps College’s Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program, a series that is designed to bring one distinguished conservative figure per year to a campus that is, otherwise, ideologically homogenous.
Will assumed it was because of what he wrote in a controversial column on sexual assault. As he told the Claremont Independent in an interview, “they didn’t say that the column was the reason, but it was the reason.” Once the Independent broke the story, Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga issued a statement confirming Will’s theory.
The president’s statement and the wider debate on campus are filled with doubletalk. Among the most egregious: “Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate…”
Of course, sexual violence itself is not a political issue. It’s a criminal issue.
What is a political issue, however, is how we choose to respond to sexual violence on campus and as a nation. If we don’t “trivialize” such policies through reasoned debate, how do we know if they’re any good?
Each political perspective offers contrasting solutions to the problem of sexual violence.
The leftist perspective, comfortable with the goodness and effectiveness of the bureaucratic state, contends that school administrators should adjudicate cases of sexual violence (both sexaul assault and rape) under Title IX, treating sexual violence as a type of discrimination.
At Claremont McKenna College, rape is tried by administrators and faculty in makeshift courts. Let that sink in for a minute. Faculty and professors are sitting in as judge and jury in cases of rape, the most egregious sexual crime that can be committed against an adult, rather than real judges and a jury of one’s peers.
While college administrators may not desire to judge rape cases, they must do so because of an April 2011 Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter, which mandates that, in order to stay in line with Title IX, colleges must try such cases, and under lower standards than those in real courts.
Such a system trivializes rape, treating it like a serious infraction. Furthermore, it imbues non-governmental entities with a worrying amount of power. There is already evidence that the current processes are excessively prone to outside influences, with cases being influenced by a student’s popularity or their relationship to a major donor or a national figure.
The conservative view (which, admittedly, Mr. Will could have done a better job of explaining) is that deans and professors shouldn’t be trying cases of sexual violence. Instead, our legal system should. Rights of the accused – like the presumption of innocence, right to an attorney, right to a judge, right to a jury that must reach a unanimous decision, and the right to cross-examination, among others – are weak or nonexistent in collegiate courtrooms. These rights do not exist in the court of public opinion, where debates over individual cases influence the national debate on sexual violence policy. However unpleasant, rights of the accused and a methodical judicial process are essential to ensuring that justice is done properly.
Rape shouldn’t be a “preponderance of evidence” infraction. Rape should be treated as a felony, a crime serious enough that must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Rape convictions shouldn’t result in simple expulsion. Rape convictions should result in jail time and felon status.
The argument that it was correct to uninvite Will is wrong-headed. Let’s be clear, this is absolutely not a question of free speech. Of course Scripps can invite or disinvite whomever it wants. What conservatives think is that, while it is Scripps’ right to disinvite Will, it was wrong of them to do so. It sets a bad precedent. It is an insult to the students of Scripps College. And it goes against values that classical liberalism does and modern progressive liberalism claims to espouse, such as toleration, reason, and the value of debate.
Disinviting George Will only tightens the ideological straight-jacket that binds the students of Scripps College. Let us hope that the students of Scripps understand the disservice their administrators have done to their intellectual environment and that they find ways to compensate. Reading the CI is a good way to start.