Returning Due Process to Campus

KC Johnson:

Last month, the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a student who sued his school for unfairly finding him guilty of sexual assault. Reversing a lower court’s dismissal of the anonymous student’s claims against Purdue University, Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote that it was “plausible” that Purdue’s investigation panel “chose to believe Jane [Doe] because she is a woman and to disbelieve John [Doe] because he is a man.” The court held that the university violated the student’s due process rights and engaged in gender discrimination, forbidden by the Title IX statute.

Since 2011, the federal government has enforced Title IX in cases of campus sexual assault, with nearly 500 accused students having filed similar lawsuits. In John Doe v. Purdue University, the plaintiff relied solely on a statement written on the accuser’s behalf by the campus victims’ rights office. Despite scant evidence, the Title IX investigator deemed the accuser the more credible party—without ever speaking to her. In what Judge Barrett called a “perplexing” decision, Purdue found the accused student guilty of sexual assault after a hearing in which the accuser didn’t even appear. Doe suffered life-altering consequences, losing his ROTC scholarship and his dream of serving in the Navy.

As Barrett noted, “Purdue’s process fell short of what even a high school must provide to a student facing a days-long suspension.” Purdue’s investigator declined to speak with Doe’s roommate, who he said would corroborate his version of events. The university then withheld the investigator’s report from Doe, a decision that the court labeled “fundamentally unfair.” Indeed, university officials appeared to have rendered their verdict upon hearing the accusation.