The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has been getting a lot of media attention for their efforts to ensure due process rights are observed for students at US universities. In the process, some distortions have been included in that media coverage:
In recent weeks, news outlets across the country have written about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family foundation’s donations to FIRE. In doing so, many outlets have mischaracterized FIRE’s work defending students’ due process rights — particularly in the realm of campus sexual assault, where the federal government has taken several significant steps to impede the ability of institutions to provide fair hearings and freedom of expression.
We have written on this topic before, but it is worth reiterating a few points.
Perhaps most importantly, our defense of accused students’ rights is not an attack on complainants’ rights, as some writers have suggested. To the contrary, we aim to ensure all students’ rights are protected. The procedural safeguards for which FIRE advocates — such as the right to cross-examine witnesses, active assistance of an attorney, and impartial fact-finders — help ensure that campus adjudicators reach accurate and reliable findings of fact. This goal serves the entire campus community and is appropriate in all cases, but it is especially paramount where the ramifications of either an erroneous guilty finding or an erroneous not guilty finding are particularly significant, such as with accusations of sexual assault or other violent offenses.
Accordingly, FIRE has opposed legislation that attempts to address the issue of campus sexual assault simply by making it easier to find accused students guilty, rather than by helping fact-finders reach accurate results. We have not opposed provisions that could “prevent campus sexual assault,” as some writers have claimed. FIRE’s concern is focused on how the parties are treated and campus justice is served after an assault is alleged to have occurred.
Because only the criminal justice system can remove perpetrators from the streets and not just from campuses, and because the court system has procedural safeguards in place to help fact-finders reach reliable findings, FIRE supports legislation that would strengthen law enforcement’s role in addressing campus sexual assault. Campus criminals are not immune from the criminal law. Even in advocating for greater involvement by law enforcement, however, we have emphasized that colleges and universities have an important role to play in responding to alleged sexual misconduct.