Harvard Law Professors Criticize New Sexual Harassment Policy

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Harvard Law School professors have written a letter to the school, published in The Boston Globe, attacking their university’s new sexual harassment and assault policy.

The 28 professors said they feel the policy is “overwhelmingly stacked against the accused” and is “inconsistent with many of the most basic principles we teach,” due to its lack of fairness and due process.

“Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required” by the federal anti-discrimination law, known as Title IX, they wrote in an op-ed article signed by 28 current and retired members of the Harvard Law faculty and posted online by The Boston Globe on Tuesday night.

Dozens of schools, including Harvard University and Harvard Law School, are under investigation by the Department of Education concerning their handling of sexual abuse cases.  The federal government has said they will withhold funds from those schools who do not update their sexual misconduct policies.

Over the summer, Harvard announced a new policy with a new definition of sexual harassment that requires a “preponderance of evidence” before it is decided whether the abuse actually occurred.  The school also introduced a new Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution that will handle complaints.

However, the professors feel that the new definition goes beyond Title IX or Title VII law, and that rules concerning sexual contact of students under the influence of drugs or alcohol are too simple.  The professors also feel the new rules do not offer adequate representation to the accused, some of whom may not be able to afford any, and that “adversary hearings” do not afford the opportunity to investigate facts or confront witnesses.

The professors said that the university merely succumbed to federal pressure rather than conferring with university staff about what would be best for the school concerning the new policy.

In a response to the letter, school officials released a statement saying that the policy was a result of a two-year review, and that the new policies “create an expert, neutral, fair, and objective mechanism for investigating sexual misconduct cases involving students.”

Not everyone agrees with the professors.

 “By implying Harvard should disregard its legal obligation to protect all of its students and ensure a safe and antidiscriminatory environment, this piece displays a callous lack of understanding of sexual violence and its effect on survivors in educational institutions,” members of student group Our Harvard Can Do Better wrote.

However, student activist MaryRose Mazzola did say that the policy needs a better definition of consent, and would fair better if it adopted the affirmative consent policy of only accepting the word “yes” as consent, rather than “no means no.”

What might make all the difference is the growing number of students across the nation who are speaking out about their unfair convictions, who are beginning to sue universities for millions.