College Sued for “Railroading” Those Accused of Rape

A student’s suit for wrongful expulsion from college is proceeding in federal court in Virginia. The young man was expelled for raping a fellow student. He says he was denied a fair hearing.

The college, Washington and Lee University, had moved to dismiss the suit. The judge denied the motion, saying that the man’s allegations, if true, “suggest that W&L’s disciplinary procedures, at least when it comes to charges of sexual misconduct, amount to a practice of railroading accused students.” (In ruling on motions of this type, a judge must assume the suit’s allegations are true. Challenges to their truth come later in litigation, usually at trial.)

A similar case against the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has been dismissed, while a new suit against Clark University in Massachusetts has been started.

Colleges throughout the nation are under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education to investigate and prosecute rape complaints against students vigorously. Many, including Washington State University and the University of Idaho (schools less than ten miles apart, across the Washington-Idaho border), were identified last spring as being under investigation for violating federal law in the way they handle sexual assault complaints.

Schools in western Washington, where I have my office, have recently increased the vigor of their response to student rape complaints. The University of Washington had a task force study the matter. Seattle University’s procedures are here. Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma has its policies here.

Every rape complaint needs to be investigated, and those who commit rape need to be held accountable. But the innocent need to be protected, too. College disciplinary procedures, in my opinion, cannot be counted on to make fair decisions in rapes cases—cases of great consequence to the young people involved. Serious crimes should instead be prosecuted in court, where the necessary experience and skill are much more likely to be found.