This piece was authored by Austin Henshaw.
On Monday the advocacy groups, End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX, started the hashtag campaign #DearBetsy due to President-elect Trump’s Secretary of Education nominee’s previous financial support for the nonpartisan civil liberties organization, Foundation For Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
According to financial records, during the years 2012 and 2013, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation made donations of $5000 to FIRE. FIRE’s mission statement is to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE’s core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them.” The HORROR!
While FIRE is best known for defending the First Amendment, they are also heavily involved in advocating for the restoration of due process in campus sexual assault proceedings. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff (who calls himself a modern liberal, by the way) has argued in the past “Due process exists not simply to protect the innocent, but also to accurately identify the guilty. Once too much subjectivity is allowed into the system, guilt or innocence determinations are unduly influenced by less rational factors, like whether or not the administrator in charge likes or dislikes the accused.”
Unfortunately Sofie Karasek, Director of Education and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, accused FIRE of saying that “sexual assault is not a real problem.” One has to wonder where she came up with this blatant falsehood. In his book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, Greg Lukianoff says on the issue of campus sexual assault “Rape is one of the most dehumanizing acts that one person can commit against another. It is a human rights violation of the first order, and attempts to draw greater attention to this once overlooked and underreported crime are a necessary step to a better and more just society. The idea of rape should and does fill us with rage and disgust. But crimes that produce such anger and outrage are precisely those where due process becomes most important. Our righteous hatred of a societal evil can cloud our judgment and lead to a mentality in which an accusation is as bad as a conviction and where innocence itself is no defense.”
Since the release of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) from the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, a document that essentially coerces public institutions into using a “preponderance of evidence” standard for adjudicating campus sexual assaults, FIRE has consistently criticized the new requirements for denying accused students basic due process protections, and is even currently involved in efforts to challenging the mandate’s legality due to a potential Administrative Procedure Act violation. FIRE is not alone in criticizing the current federal overreach of Title IX the DCL mandates. A group of 21 law professors from various institutions across the country criticized current efforts to enforce Title IX in an “Open Letter Regarding Campus Free Speech and Sexual Assault.” Even RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country, has argued campus administrators are unfit to adjudicate sexual assault cases.
Unfortunately, activists and journalists in support of campuses continuing their current efforts in regards to campus sexual assault have framed the issue as a partisan one, framing GOP lawmakers as out of touch with the plight of victims. The Republican platform on Title IX states, “Sexual assault is a terrible crime. We commend the good-faith efforts by law enforcement, educational institutions, and their partners to address that crime responsibly. Whenever reported, it must be promptly investigated by civil authorities and prosecuted in a courtroom, not a faculty lounge. Questions of guilt or innocence must be decided by a judge and jury, with guilt determined beyond a reasonable doubt. Those convicted of sexual assault should be punished to the full extent of the law. The Administration’s distortion of Title IX to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse contravenes our country’s legal traditions and must be halted before it further muddles this complex issue and prevents the proper authorities from investigating and prosecuting sexual assault effectively with due process.”
While it is true Republicans generally agree more with FIRE than Democrats when it comes to campus due process and civil authorities prosecuting campus sexual assault, civil liberties protections should not be a partisan issue. The #DearBetsy campaign, while well intentioned, is misguided.