Colleges and Universities across America have set up their own quasi-judicial systems to adjudicate student behavior. While they are pretending to be detectives, judges, juries, and appellate courts – they aren’t officially part of the American legal system.
Colleges encourage accusers – most of whom are women – to go to them instead of the police, but this is usually limited to female students. A recent case out of the University of Virginia (location of the infamous Rolling Stone rape hoax) makes it seem as though some colleges now believe they really are the legal system in their towns.
In April 2017, a student referred to in court documents as John Doe met a woman referred to as Jane Roe at an off-campus establishment. Jane would eventually go with John to his off-campus apartment, where the two engaged in sexual activity. Jane was not a student at UVA and the alleged sexual assault occurred off campus and was unconnected to any university sponsored event. Title IX, the statute that has been used to justify colleges acting as criminal courts, does limit what instances a college can investigate.
Jane reported the encounter as a sexual assault to local police, who investigated for more than a year before contacting UVA’s Title IX coordinator Emily Babb. The school decided to investigate John even though it lacked jurisdiction to do so. By the time the school’s investigation was completed, John had finished his undergraduate degree requirements and was scheduled to graduate.
John was told four months after the investigative file was complete that his “degree w[ould] be held pending final resolution of the current Title IX matter.” He was told he could still “participate fully in all [graduation] ceremonies.”
According to court documents, John was not given the chance to tell his side of the story before he was threatened with having his degree withheld. John was no longer enrolled at the university, having completed his coursework, and had accepted a job offer to begin working after graduation.
Just days after his graduation weekend, John was provided the Final Investigation Report, which acknowledged that Jane wasn’t a student but John was investigated for a potential violation of the school’s sexual assault policies anyway. The report also concluded there was insufficient evidence to find John responsible for inappropriately touching Jane at the off-campus establishment but sufficient evidence that he sexually assaulted her later at his apartment.
John sued the university, claiming his due process rights were denied and that UVA had no jurisdiction to investigate this particular allegation since Jane wasn’t a student and the alleged assault did not happen on campus.
Judge Glen E. Conrad, a senior U.S. district judge for the western district of Virginia, last month granted John a preliminary injunction stopping the university from holding a Review Panel Hearing of the allegations against John. This will allow John and UVA to argue in court whether an investigation into the allegations should ever have taken place.
Universities are not legal systems. The allegations against John should have been handled exclusively by the actual police and legal system, not the university.