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On Colleges and Evidence Standards

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On Colleges and Evidence Standards

Tucker Reed claims "it would be unduly burdensome" for a college "to apply a higher level of scrutiny than the 'preponderance of evidence' standard" in sexual assault cases ("On Fairly Adjudicating College Sexual-Assault Charges," Letters, May 13).

But colleges long used a higher, "clear and convincing evidence" standard in student discipline, which worked reasonably well. As a 1987 Yale Law Journal article noted, "Courts, universities, and student defendants all seem to agree that the appropriate standard of proof in student disciplinary cases is one of 'clear and convincing' evidence." That standard applied even to things like sexual assault that a college could be sued for ignoring.

The "preponderance" standard that Ms. Reed (and the Education Department) advocate in sexual assault and harassment cases is hardly the only "standard used in civil court matters." The clear and convincing evidence standard is often used for cases such as license suspensions and many issues involving fraud, punitive damages, wills or family decisions. The Education Department should allow colleges to use the traditional "clear and convincing evidence" standard, rather than imposing the "preponderance" standard by administrative fiat.