February 13, 2017

EDITORIAL : Beating the Bias

Print More

On Jan. 25, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened its sixth Title IX investigation into alleged mishandling of sexual assault investigations by Cornell, making it the university with the most active Title IX investigations.

Under Title IX, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” At Cornell, that promise has come into question. The accounts of all parties involved in the recent Doe v. Roe case were unfairly evaluated under Policy 6.4, the University’s problematic policy for handling cases of sexual harassment. Cornell came under fire for instances of evident discrimination in this case. Both students accused each other of sexual assault, but Doe’s account was deemed less credible than Roe’s by the University investigator, who had “no evidence whatsoever to place the [male student] (or anyone else for that matter) at the scene of the theft.” Furthermore, when Doe took this student-against-staff issue to Laurie Johnston, head of the Office of Workplace Policy and Labor Relations, Johnston neglected to attend to Doe’s complaint until threatened with litigation.

The fact that the investigation of Doe’s discrimination complaint was so easily delayed reinforces that Policy 6.4 is “fraught with inequities.” The University’s justification for the deferral was that Doe’s previous complaint against the other student had not yet been resolved, but it weakly disguised the fact that the deferral “placed Doe in a ‘more vulnerable position.’” If the policy’s authors had the students’ best interests in mind, Policy 6.4 would not have enabled the investigators to make such a move. There are obvious holes that allow those on payroll to gain control of the system and bend it to their advantage. This specific incident of mishandling is but one of potentially more cases.

As an institution that prides itself on student diversity and its egalitarian vision of higher education, the University should take a closer look at the policy and be more cautious in appointing personnel who will not attempt to circumvent the standards that protect students’ rights to a fair investigation. Title IX is meant to benefit everyone, irrespective of gender, and continually sweeping these cases under the rug provides basis for similar incidents in the future, invites further scrutiny of university policies and throws the safety of students into a state of doubt.

Title IX investigations persist, even though the University has made revisions to Policy 6.4. If we mean to truly assert our intolerance towards bias and assault, we must push for a comprehensive review of all complaints, even those concerning university personnel. Regardless of any pre-disposition towards bias, Cornell must become more proactive in terms of protecting the stated privileges of all students.

  • Carolyn Hill Rogers ’59

    Re–bias in social psych. community: I’m barging in to this area because I have to vent about the absurdly PC things going on “on the hill”! I’m an old “Home Ec” grad. . . .go way back at my (formerly) beloved Cornell. Have to share my concerns about this unique school where Ezra Cornell said, ” I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study”, 150 years ago (recently chosen best school motto).
    This motto also implies broad viewpoints welcome and shared, without fear of intimidation, ridicule. bodily harm, etc.., and it seems this is not the case today.
    I’ve become aware that Cornell is not that place anymore. Profs and administrators should not be largely of one political persuasion, who self righteously encourage events like a “cry in”, kick a Jesse Watters off campus, refuse presentations by people who can’t buy protection, allow bad behavior by rude bullying students who need a firm guiding hand and no tolerance for their absurd childish behavior– “in loco parentis” comes to mind!
    Also, so disrespectful of tradition as to change the special name, “Cornell Plantations” to the bland could-be-anywhere, “Botanic Gardens”. Plantations is not and never was, a reference to, or respect for, the old south–rather a word picture of the variety of garden areas Cornell manages. Too late now, but past time to just get over it, and move on!
    In short– Cornell has the reputation, courses, not to mention beauty, to attract the finest students; but there is a lot to be said about expecting these privileged students to respect their adult(?) teachers and administrators who have a variety of political and life experiences, and tolerance to offer the young people under their care. Nothing wrong with that. These spoiled kids are in for a rude awakening when out in the real world!
    Vent over–ready for your ” circular file”, but I feel better anyway.
    Thank you.