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Higher Standards for Campus Discipline

By Kevin R. Lang, Brian Loux, and Kris Schnee

We believe Harvard’s policy change is a step in the right direction, and that any controversy results from broad misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

The measure does not restrict the legal rights of victims, but rather Harvard has simply recognized that it must apply the same standards for justice as any other legal body. The new regulations apply not simply to rape and sexual assault, but to any campus crime. Victims can still pursue criminal prosecution, which is more appropriate and effective for serious crimes.

The Tech argues that placing the burden of investigation on the victim is undue, but investigations would still be conducted by Harvard campus police or an attorney, as in a criminal case. By requiring more concrete evidence before proceeding with a full disciplinary proceeding Harvard is simply seeking some basis on which to proceed beyond one person’s word against another’s.

The motion is clearly meant to rectify administrative handling of campus rape. Such crimes are often unclear at best, such as the case of Adam Lack at Brown University, where what was believed to be consensual sex led to an accusation of rape, a wrongful prosecution, and a civil libel suit. Universities must respect the rights of all students equally -- Harvard has wisely chosen to apply a more rigorous standard of proof. Such a requisite can be found for any court of law in America; witnesses, reports, or, better still, physical evidence, give rape victims the best chance of seeing their attacker brought to justice. The standard for a campus investigation should be no different than that in a criminal case. Our justice system is based on the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty -- the burden of proof must reside with the plaintiff, regardless of the nature of the crime.

The Tech fears that this higher standard would yield fewer reported cases, yet this chain of logic leads to the conclusion that the fear of a defeatable case that would cause a victim not to speak out. Yet earlier The Tech states, correctly, that the embarrassing nature of the crime causes victims to remain silent. Such an accusation of the plaintiff’s lack of desire to follow through with the case paints that person in a strictly selfish light. Would not that person’s priority be to seek justice for a wrongdoing, a cause that would trump any fear of failure?

The Tech also argues that “One case of sexual assault should not be turned away simply because previous similar cases yielded no results,” but this is simply not true. The induction of a burden of proof does not create a blanket rule, but instead forces administrators to act on a case by case basis. By treating rape reports individually, Harvard will not be dragged down by the multitude of accusations which result in no action for lack of evidence. The university will be able to focus on the real and serious instances of rape on campus.

We agree that MIT’s system of handling sexual assault cases is nebulous, and that students have the right to be fully aware of their options, both as accusers and as accused. Nonetheless, MIT should choose to act as Harvard has: with justice as its foremost concern, not litigation.