Twenty-eight professors at Harvard Law School have signed a blistering op-ed that attacks the school’s new policy addressing sexual harassment and assault.
In the letter to the school, published by the Boston Globe, the professors say the policy is “overwhelmingly stacked against the accused” and, because it lacks basic fairness and due process, is “inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach.”
Harvard College, as well as Harvard Law School, are among the dozens of schools under investigation by the Department of Education over how they handle claims of sexual abuse. Over the summer, the school announced a sweeping new policy for sexual harassment and violence to address the investigation. The new policy provided a new definition of sexual harassment and assault. Harvard also created an Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution to address such complaints and now has a policy that requires a “preponderance of evidence” to decide whether assault happened.
But the law professors say the school’s new definition of sexual assault goes way beyond Title IX or Title VII law, and that rules about sexual contact when both students are impaired by drugs or alcohol are far too simplistic. They also expressed concern that people accused of assault aren’t guaranteed to get adequate representation, especially if they can’t afford it, and there is no opportunity to investigate the facts or confront witnesses during “an adversary hearing.”
Overall, the professors argue, the university failed to consult faculty from different schools, including the law school, and instead acquiesced to federal demands instead of considering what was best for Harvard. They implore the school to withdraw the current policy and rethink how it handles sexual assault on campus.
School administrators released a statement in response to the op-ed, noting the policy went into effect after two years of review, and the new policies “create an expert, neutral, fair, and objective mechanism for investigating sexual misconduct cases involving students.”
Opinion on the issue seemed to be divided between administration and students. Anne Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, told NPR that the Department of Education “effectively put a gun to the heads of our colleges and universities to disregard constitutional rights.” But student group Our Harvard Can Do Better released a statement saying the op-ed “displays a callous lack of understanding of sexual violence and its effect on survivors in educational institutions,” and that the school’s policy in fact doesn’t do enough to protect victims.