Federal Pressure Spurs Harassment Convictions

Regarding the April 24 Associated Press story, “Colleges find new rules for handling rape cases a legal minefield”:
The story got my words right, but the context wrong. It correctly quoted my observation that in college disciplinary proceedings, “Innocent people get found guilty of harassment because the school realizes the only way it can avoid liability is to punish everybody in sight.” But it wrongly claimed I said schools did that because they feared “Title IX lawsuits.”
In reality, it is government pressure – not just lawsuits – that leads to convictions of innocent students. If a school gives an accused student due process, it will probably win a lawsuit brought by the complaining student. But it can still be investigated and threatened with the loss of federal funds by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, where I used to work. OCR has a much broader notion of sexual harassment than the federal courts. It routinely holds schools liable for Title IX violations for responding to sexual harassment complaints in ways that federal judges consider perfectly reasonable. It is OCR’s pressure, not just Title IX lawsuits, that makes fearful school officials convict even innocent students of harassment.