Harvard Professors Object to New Sexual Assault Policy

Professors at Harvard Law School are urging the university to revoke new procedures addressing on-campus sexual misconduct, saying the rule goes too far.

In July, Harvard announced a new university-wide policy to prevent sexual violence, lowering the burden of proof necessary to find someone guilty. It also created a central office to investigate sexual assaults.

Since then, the federal government has been pushing all universities receiving public funds to embrace similar policies, and this month California became the first state in the nation to adopt an affirmative consent standard for sexual assault on college campuses.

Now a group of distinguished Harvard law professors say the school’s new policy denies due process to those accused of assault or harassment.

“Many of us are deeply concerned with the nature of the policy,” said Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet.

Bartholet says the new rule is stacked against accused students and it could undermine their careers.

“There’s a very serious problem in having one office that’s responsible for investigating, prosecuting and then adjudicating,” said Bartholet.

From the professors’ statement:

“We strongly endorse the importance of protecting our students from sexual misconduct and providing an educational environment free from the sexual and other harassment that can diminish educational opportunity. But we believe that this particular sexual harassment policy adopted by Harvard will do more harm than good.”

In a statement, university administrators said they’re confident the new policy will create a neutral and fair mechanism for investigating sexual assaults on all of Harvard’s campuses.

The policy and procedures address a problem that affects core institutional values and objectives – access to educational opportunities, fairness, objectivity, and non-discrimination. The University appreciates that not every member of the community will agree with every aspect of the new approach.

[This story comes to us from On Campus, a public radio reporting initiative focused on higher education produced in Boston at WGBH.]

Kirk Carapezza

Kirk Carapezza is the lead reporter for On Campus. Kirk has reported for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis., and Vermont Public Radio in Montpelier, Vt. He's been a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad.

Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway.