Following the Education Department's directive, the University of Hawaii announced that students may be evicted from dormitories after no more than an accusation. At Yale, an unsubstantiated charge of sexual assault against a star football player was enough to deny him a Rhodes scholarship. At Xavier University, a student who was found not guilty of sexual assault by a judge was nonetheless told by the university that he would be prohibited from participating in classes or extracurricular activities with his "victim." Caleb Warner was banned from the campuses of the University of North Dakota for three years. When police investigated the case, they issued an arrest warrant for his accuser, charging her with making a false rape charge. Only after repeated interventions on Warner's behalf by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) did the university finally admit that the charges were without foundation.
Having virtually obliterated procedural protections for those accused of serious offenses and crimes, the Obama administration has now added a new insult -- a restriction on free speech itself. For two decades, universities have struggled with the question of "speech codes," tempted by the left to enshrine political correctness at the expense of the First Amendment. Most campuses have resisted, but through the Obama administration, the censors have triumphed all at once and everywhere.
A letter from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice addressed to the University of Montana but explicitly intended as a "blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country," the government has altered the legal meaning of the term "sexual harassment." The new rule directly contravenes Supreme Court decisions and previous rulings from OCR that harassment "must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive." The Supreme Court has ruled that to meet the test of sexual harassment, behavior must be "severe, pervasive and objectively offensive." Note the word "objectively," meaning that a reasonable person similarly situated would be offended.
The reasonable person standard is now gone. The new definition of sexual harassment decreed by the Obama administration is "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including "verbal conduct." The purported victim now has the power to decide whether a young man or woman (but it's nearly always a man) is branded a sexual harasser. It's entirely subjective.
Obama promised fundamental transformation. This is part of it. Freedom of speech is sacrificed, and a new army of sexual harassment "specialists" will descend on America's campuses to enforce the new dispensation.
To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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