Caleb Warner's Story Continues to Inspire

Caleb Warner may not be returning back to school this year, but he has been inspiring people to speak out against the guidelines for prosecuting sexual assault on college campuses.
On July 15th I published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about Caleb, a University of North Dakota student accused of sexual assault. Caleb was kicked out of school and the local police swore out an arrest warrant; not for him, but for his accuser. Utilizing the same evidence that led to his expulsion from school, the police determined that Caleb was not guilty, and that his accuser had filed a false police report. Even though police felt there was clearly insufficient evidence to bring charges (much less convict), the school was perfectly comfortable bringing him in front of a disciplinary board and expelling him. They were so comfortable, in fact, that even after Caleb's accuser left town following the warrant for her arrest, the school still did not agree to rehear his case.

But after a summer of bad press, along with intensive lobbying by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (
FIRE), the University of North Dakota vacated all of Caleb's charges, including his expulsion. While he has said he is unlikely to return to the University of North Dakota, he now has a clean record, and can move on with his life.

Caleb's story has also inspired a number of other people who are concerned about due process on campus.

A November 4th story in North Dakota's Williston Herald excoriated the University of North Dakota for taking so long to finally clear Caleb's name. As columnist Levin T. Black writes in his piece

Finally it seems someone at UND has some sense. I wrote in my March column that UND could be forced to show Warner the money. I criticized Boyd for making a quick decision based on evidence that was not proven.

After almost two years UND finally showed some intelligence. Funny that a place for learning lacked common sense.

But the story has spread beyond Williston, ND. Yesterday, Cathy Young wrote a piece on utilizing Caleb's story to critique congress's attempt to enshrine lower standards of evidence for campus sexual assault hearings as a part of the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. Young summarizes the problem well:

Traditionally, most colleges have adjudicated charges of misconduct against students under the higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence" -- less stringent than "beyond a reasonable doubt," but nonetheless requiring an extremely strong probability of guilt.

Last April, however, the Office of the Civil Rights of the Department of Education undertook to change that, sending out a letter to colleges and universities on the proper handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment reports. One of the OCR's key recommendations was to adopt the "preponderance of the evidence" standard in judging such complaints.

...Now, a new effort is underway to strong-arm colleges and universities into compliance. The Senate draft bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Woman Act, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, would require all schools that receive federal money to follow the OCR's guidance in disciplinary proceedings. What's more, this version of VAWA expands the OCR's recommendations so that the "preponderance of the evidence" standard must apply not only to complaints of sexual assault but also of domestic or dating violence and stalking. Non-compliant institutions stand to lose all federal funding, including their students' eligibility for tuition assistance.

While these rules apply only to campus disciplinary proceedings, not in criminal court, they are still likely to have grave consequences. A student found guilty of sexual assault in such a hearing faces not only expulsion from school, but the stigma of having committed a felonious act even if it is not prosecuted under criminal law.

Caleb is still recovering from the ordeal caused by his accuser and the University of North Dakota. I hope, though, that his story will continue to be a warning to those who try to strip away due process from campus hearings. Patrick Leahy may have the best of intentions, but, as Caleb's story demonstrates, we know where that road often leads.

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at American colleges and universities,
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by Harvey and Alan C. Kors

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