Ethics Quiz Of The Day: What’s None Of Harvard’s Business?

Now we own you.

Boy, Harvard is getting like the Candyman (no, not Willy Wonka, the horror movie version): mention its name enough times, and it appears behind you, with mayhem on its mind.

A case filed in federal court by a Harvard University student, “John Doe,” argues that the school overstepped  its authority by investigating him for a rape allegation lodged by a non-student in a city where police declined to prosecute. He contends that Harvard did not have the authority to open an investigation into sexual assault allegations levied by a non-Harvard student regarding an incident that did not take place on University property. “Doe” demands that Harvard end the investigation and pay him $75,000 in damages, as well as compensate him for any costs incurred during litigation.

Doe’s suit states that, during summer 2017, Doe and “Jane Roe” ( the unnamed woman he allegedly raped) were both working internships in Washington, D.C. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department investigated the alleged assault but ultimately decided not to prosecute the case. “Roe” has filed a civil suit against the Harvard student.

The University’s Office for Dispute Resolution opened an investigation into Doe in October 2018

Harvard University’s policies related to sexual and gender-based misconduct, readable here, apply only to misconduct perpetrated by students while on campus or in connection with University-recognized activities. The  guidelines followed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are more expansive, as it states that the school  may hold all students to the expectation that they behave in a “in a mature and responsible manner” no matter where they are.

“It is the expectation of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that all students, whether or not they are on campus or are currently enrolled in a degree program, will behave in a mature and responsible manner. Consistent with this principle, sexual and gender-based misconduct are not tolerated by the FAS even when, because they do not have the effect of creating a hostile environment for a member of the University community, they fall outside the jurisdiction of the University Policy.”

Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, new Title IX guidelines proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and released by the department last month stipulate that schools are not required to open investigations into alleged acts of sexual misconduct that took place outside the bounds of a school “program or activity.”

Doe’s suit charges Harvard with breach of contract and breach of covenant of faith and fair dealing. In allowing him to attend classes in exchange for “substantial amounts of money,” Harvard created a reasonable expectation that Doe would earn a degree from the school. One possible result of an ODR investigation would be expulsion.

“Harvard has breached, and is breaching, its contractual obligations by subjecting Mr. Doe to a disciplinary process that—in the ways, and for the reasons, set out above—is arbitrary, capricious, malicious, and being conducted in bad faith,” the complaint states. ODR informed Doe that the investigation is based on Roe’s allegations. In an email submitted as an exhibit in the lawsuit,  ODR’s senior investigator wrote that the College Title IX coordinator filed the case, then reached out to Roe to ask her to participate as a complainant in the investigation. Doe asked Harvard to temporarily suspend the investigation pending the results of Roe’s civil suit. Doe stated a simultaneous ODR investigation would have a “serious impact” on his ability to defend himself in the ongoing civil case, according to the complaint.

Harvard, noting that the D.C. police was not going to investigate the allegations, rejected the request.

Let’s put aside the law and Harvard’s policies for now, and stick to ethics.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

“Is it fair for a college to investigate alleged misconduct, including crimes, on the part of student, when the conduct occurs in a different city and local police have declined to take action?”

Why is this a quiz? It’s a quiz because I think both sides have ethical arguments in support of their position. When an individual is a student of a school, that student represents the school everywhere he or she goes. Conduct that reflects adversely on the school from an objective point of view, which I would limit to serious criminal conduct, is a legitimate concern. However, unless there is reason to believe that the conduct occurred and police unjustly chose not to investigate, a college should not be in the business of questioning decisions by local law enforcement or the justice system. This smacks of a “believe all women accusers” move by Harvard.


Pointer: Other Bill

30 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz Of The Day: What’s None Of Harvard’s Business?

  1. No! We encountered the “presumption of innocence” principle recently with the Supreme Court Nominee process and witnessed the damage done by ignoring it. The admissions price for Harvard should demand higher standards not only in ethics but also in value and, in my opinion, in both regards they’re failing.

  2. I’m a Holy Cross graduate, as I’ve mentioned before. In 2002 freshman Jonathan Duchatelier, an NROTC student from NJ, was at an off-campus party when Paolo Liuzzo, then a sophomore, an all-around creep and son of privilege from a rich and probably mobbed-up Long Island family, kept making advances to a female classmate even though she wasn’t interested. Jonathan decided to intervene (probably a dumb choice, white knighting always is), a fight ensued (dumber), and Paolo landed a “sucker punch” that was ultimately fatal (dumbest). Paolo was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He withdrew from HC over the summer, before anything could be done, so his record did not reflect that. He pled guilty to a reduced charge, served not a day in jail, and since then he’s gone on to wreck a car or two, get charged with cocaine possession, and (briefly) date Princess Beatrice, although the House of Windsor declared him persona non grata after his criminal record came out.

    The college should have thrown him out immediately pending the resolution of criminal charges. There is no way there should have been any presumption of anything in his favor. Hey, HC got its own Ted Kennedy. That said, half of me wishes he had returned that fall, so some of Jonathan’s NROTC buddies could have waited for the right moment and meted out some deserved “street justice.”

  3. Jack wrote, “unless there is reason to believe that the conduct occurred and police unjustly chose not to investigate, a college should not be in the business of questioning decisions by local law enforcement or the justice system.”

    I understand that college administrators want to do their best to keep all their students safe within the law; but, …..

    Honest question; why should any college ever be in the business of questioning decisions by local law enforcement or the justice system in matters regarding students that attend their college. College administrators should be working with law enforcement and the justice system and not trying to dictate an outcome of an investigation? College administrators are NOT an investigative branch of the justice department.

    • Amen. Alleged crimes on campuses should be referred to the local police for investigation and prosecution. Educators should educate. Why is this so hard? It seems easy for big universities with big football programs. A football player gets charged with a felony, the player gets suspended from the team but is allowed to stay in class (hahhahahaha) until the police and local prosecutors come to a decision. If the player is charged, they’re usually kicked off the team and probably kicked out of school (i.e., thrown in the briar patch). If the player is exonerated, he gets reinstated. What’s so hard about that/ I thought in loco parentis went out in the mid to late ’60s.

  4. I can only see a college conducting an investigation if the internship was coordinated by the school.

    With that said even if the internship was brokered by the school the civil and criminal processes must be concluded prior to the college’s procedural adjudication begins.

    In this case, I cannot conclude that Harvard is on solid ethical grounds and as an extrajudicial proceeding it can distort the outcome of the legal processes underway.

  5. Schools are lousy at this investigation stuff. Like the NFL. Absent some irrefutable evidence of injustice (a video of an assault/battery, for example), a school should not be in the business of conducting its own investigation of off-campus conduct when the authorities have completed their own inquiry and decided not to prosecute.

    • assuming that very few Professors are retired police detectives, I would contend that Colleges and Universities should not be investigating anything, anywhere, any time. They simply lack the skills to do so.

  6. I will cut the student newspaper a tiny bit of slack, but an important detail is whether or not the internship was being taken for credit. It appears not, given that the suit alleges the university overstepped its mandate. However, if Doe is receiving credit, then his participation could very fairly be characterized as a university program and place his conduct squarely within the university’s purview.

    • That’s what I was thinking- receiving credit ties it directly to the school. But how would you call it if the student was receiving no credit hours but the internship was fulfilling a non-credit-based degree requirement?

  7. It is not the university’s business to be investigating rapes at all. These are felonies and universities does not have the legal investigative rights, the expertise, or the ability to investigate these. Yes, the criminal justice system doesn’t always get things right, but if the system with the legal rights, funding, training, and ability to investigate these things get them wrong, why would you expect the university (who has none of these things) will get it right?

    What about other infractions? Well, it depends. If a dorm check turns up a big stash of drugs, the university shouldn’t ignore that. It should expel the student. However, this was done without a warrant, without chain of custody, etc. The student is punished according to the school rules. If a student is disruptive (publicly), the university should suspend or expel the student. However, these are not things that require investigation. Your RA finds a bunch of drugs. The videotape of the lecture or the testimony of the professor and the entire class shows the student being disruptive. If the student assaulted someone, a police report should be filed about that. Regulating what normally is private conduct between 2 people is much trickier. Regulating speech is very tricky. The university shouldn’t be involved with that. The police and the courts deal with crimes.

    Faculty are poorly equipped to handle this. Let’s look at a simple academic matter, plagiarism. I have seen or heard of faculty charging students with plagiarism when the students didn’t plagiarize. The students didn’t do what the faculty member wanted them to do, but they didn’t plagiarize. A student took a high school 1 page essay and expanded it to a 10 page research paper. The professor, the department chair, and the dean all convicted the student of ‘self-plagiarism’. It isn’t. They ended up removing the student from the school. Another professor charged a student with plagiarism for copying paragraphs from sources…but they were all in quotes and cited. If English faculty can’t get this right, do you want them investigating rapes? You want the administration to do it? They are even less prepared.

    • I’m not a lawyer, but I would suspect that a warrant would no more be required to search a dorm than one is required for a high school principal to search a locker.

      • Yes, but that is for internal discipline and that is my point. Such evidence should never be turned over for actual criminal or civil trial. You don’t need a warrant to search you child’s bedroom and employers can search employee areas at work, but such ‘evidence’ should never be used to send someone to jail. It didn’t need the warrant, it doesn’t have controls to verify its validity.

  8. No Harvard has no business if thee has been no conviction. Or court decision. We have courts for a reason universities need not get involved.

  9. Each institution has its own education model, its own values. So an institution may have an ethical justification for policing off-campus conduct, provided that it is upfront about it.

    The state should generally stay out of university disciplinary issues. The only reasons a state is justified to intervene would be the following:

    – prohibiting the university from using disciplinary procedures to require commission of a crime.
    -prohibiting a university from using disciplinary procedures to retaliate for reporting a crime, absent an accusation of false reporting by the police or the courts.
    – prohibiting racial, sexual, or religious discrimination in the university disciplinary process. (the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter was not such an example.)

    Beyond that, the state should not intervene.

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