At a candidates' forum in Fishtown last night, I met Councilwoman Helen Gym, whose campaign I had supported. I expressed my appreciation for her role in initiating the protests at the Philadelphia airport, but also my disagreement with the fact that one of her criticisms of Betsy DeVos was for supporting FIRE's advocacy for due process in university adjudication of sexual assault allegations. She cited former Penn President Sheldon Hackney's conduct in a case while she was there as an example of why changes in procedure had been necessary. Here's the rejoinder that I've posted to her Facebook page:
In our conversation yesterday at the Fishtown candidates' forum, you cited the so-called "ATO incident" at Penn as an example of what motivated policies like the "Dear Colleague letter," which has skewed adjudication in campus sexual assault cases against the accused. You claimed that President Hackney "sided with" the alleged rapists in that case.
Well, I was an undergrad at the time and I clearly remember that claim's being made. I wrote a letter to the Daily Pennsylvanian explaining why it was nonsense: Hackney didn't ask the accused to his mansion; they came uninvited, and all he did was make himself accessible. And all he told them was that he would assure they'd be treated fairly. There's no reason to think he'd have done any differently if their accuser had shown up at his doorstep.
And, by the way, he didn't even keep his promise: they were punished despite the faculty adjudicator's NOT finding them guilty of rape, simply based on his paternalistic judgment that "multiple seriatim sexual intercourse" wasn't "appropriate conduct" -- applying the concept of in loco parentis quite literally by treating those involved, including the accuser, like children who couldn't decide for themselves what sexual activities they wanted to engage in.
What the "ATO incident" actually shows is that many universities were running roughshod over due process rights even back then [in 1983]; the "Dear Colleague letter" has only made it worse.