The editorial “Lessons to be learned from U football mess” (Feb. 9) perpetuates several misconceptions. As organizations committed to improving the response to sexual violence, we feel compelled to clarify.
The University of Minnesota’s campus adjudication process did not “spiral out of control” in this case. The school’s procedure is dictated by federal law — Title IX — and by its own codes of conduct for student-athletes and students. To understand this point, it is necessary to separate the decisions of the Hennepin County attorney’s office from the school’s approach. Criminal charges are not required for the campus adjudication process.
The burden of proof in a criminal prosecution is “beyond reasonable doubt.” It is the highest burden in our legal system because the constitutional right to liberty is at stake.
A college student who is subject to campus adjudication is entitled to due process but the stakes are not as high. Access to adult education is not a fundamental right, nor is playing football. Schools can set forth reasonable expectations for how students behave (like not perpetrating or watching a sexual assault) and because students can’t be put in jail or prison for violating the school’s expectations, the burden of proof is lower — preponderance of the evidence.
Characterizing the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard as “50 percent and a feather” is grossly inaccurate. It is the same standard used in civil litigation for workplace-based gender and racial discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, hardly a lightweight law. Four students were found “not responsible” because the preponderance of evidence standard was not met. The students who were suspended or expelled can pursue additional legal remedies at school or in court.
Complaints by the press about the public display of players’ identities are disingenuous. Ironically, the editorial links to an article with a photo showing some of them. An attorney for the players talked about the case on Twitter. Their parents were interviewed by reporters. The story was all over mainstream media and social media because of the players’ advocates. Had the case been criminally charged, public documents and player photos would have been broadcast.
Conversely, the university maintained confidentiality as required under federal law. There is no evidence that the school leaked the investigative report from the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office. When asked, the school declined to share protected information, and continues to do so.
Characterizing the players’ threatened boycott of the bowl game as an act of “solidarity” that was “snuffed out” by the report leak disregards their misguided approach. It is past time for the media, attorneys and parents to treat these student-athletes as adults who have an obligation to understand the requirements of their athletic contracts and codes of conduct, as well as the basics of sexual assault prevention. All of this information was available to them via trainings through the athletic program and the university.
The players’ boycott news conference ignored the seriousness of sexual assault. Not only did they incorrectly equate the campus investigation process with the criminal justice system, they failed to mention that a visiting high school recruit — a minor — was encouraged into sexual activity. They also completely mischaracterized the student-athlete code of conduct, a code many of them had been governed by for several years. They cast themselves as victims of a system they made no effort to learn about. Chagrined after the release of the EOAA report and related public outcry, some players acknowledged that a woman took the difficult step of reporting a sexual assault.
The Star Tribune’s Editorial Board made the same error. The editorial only referred to the alleged victim regarding her right to appeal, as if it is somehow unfair that all parties have a chance to seek review. The board compares this campus-based procedural right, incorrectly, to the criminal justice process, failing to recognize that the processes are completely different.
If the board believes the players are having a tough time, please remember that the victim and her family have spent many horrific months seeking accountability. She now lives with the trauma of a sexual assault. Don’t burden her with blame for “ruining” people’s lives by seeking justice.
Rana Alexander is executive director of Standpoint. Jeanne Ronayne is executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.