In “Have We Learned Anything From the Columbia Rape Case?” Emily Bazelon mostly answers “no.” I would very slightly answer “yes,” but in a way contrary to her reading: We’ve mostly learned that colleges are not set up (and should not be set up) to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. We have police and prosecutors for that. Those systems have their problems, but they exist to balance fairness and justice.
University judicial panels are good for relatively minor issues like plagiarism or smoking weed or being a jerk to a roommate. They’re terrible for serious crimes. Bazelon writes, “As universities scramble to improve their disciplinary processes…” as if it’s a foregone conclusion that they should be adjudicating serious crimes. Universities should improve their disciplinary processes… by referring cases to police, rather than setting up kangaroo courts.
Oddly, the general issue was covered in a round of articles from last year, which I wrote about here; little seems to have changed since. I wonder too how much time and money universities spend on these issues, rather than on, say, education. Maybe it’s time for universities to see their housing functions as too great an institutional liability and to shed them, since much of the controversy appears to be linked to university-owned housing.