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Opinion: Students accused of sexual assault deserve to vigorously defend themselves

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with the media July 13 in Washington after a series of listening sessions about campus sexual violence.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with the media July 13 in Washington after a series of listening sessions about campus sexual violence.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

To the editor: The Times previously expressed concern about the fairness of campus sexual assault adjudications. A July 2015 editorial argued that the rights of accused students “cannot be sacrificed to make their accusers feel comfortable.”

Since that editorial appeared, 42 colleges and universities have been on the losing side of decisions in lawsuits filed by accused students. A recurrent theme: Fear of the Department of Education has produced campus tribunals that effectively presume guilt.

So it’s astonishing to see the editorial board repudiate its prescient observations of 2015 and urge upholding the very Obama-era guidance that triggered the campus rush to judgment. (“Hey, Betsy DeVos, keep your hands off campus sexual assault standards,” editorial, Aug. 18)

To claim that using the lowest possible standard of proof, allowing accusers to appeal not-guilty findings and strongly discouraging direct cross-examination reflects a desire to “respect the rights” of the accused, is Orwellian. As your 2015 editorial correctly deserved, accused students “deserve a full and fair opportunity to cross-examine, ask questions, challenge statements and look into the eyes of their accusers.”

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The search for the truth demands nothing less.

KC Johnson, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The writer is a professor of history at Brooklyn College.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook


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