Monday, April 23, 2012

For colleges, rape cases a legal minefield

A closed- door encounter between two college acquaintances. Both have been drinking. One says she was raped; the other insists it was consensual. There are no other witnesses.

It’s a common scenario in college sexual assault cases, and a potential nightmare to resolve. But under the 40-year-old federal gender equity law Title IX — and guidance handed down last year by the Obama administration on how to apply it — colleges can’t just turn such cases over to criminal prosecutors, who often won’t touch them anyway. Instead, they must investigate, and in campus proceedings do their best to balance the accused’s due process rights with the civil right of the victim to a safe education.

Lately, though, the legal ramifications of such cases are spilling off campus, with schools caught in the middle.

Colleges that do too little about sexual assault could lose federal funds. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is currently investigating a dozen colleges and universities over their response to sexual violence (documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show schools that have recently agreed to take steps to resolve OCR complaints over Title IX policies include universities such as Notre Dame, Northwestern and George Washington).

Meanwhile, judgments in Title IX lawsuits against colleges, usually brought by accusers, are soaring. Compounding the fear: In some such cases, college administrators may be found personally liable.

But when colleges do take action against accused students, those students are increasingly lawyering up themselves, suing for breach of contract and negligence. And in at least two recent cases, in Tennessee and Massachusetts, male students have tread novel legal ground by alleging violations of their own Title IX protections against gender discrimination, arguing a college’s sexual assault policies or procedures were unfairly stacked against men.

Whether or not such Title IX arguments hold up, they underscore a new fact of life: For better or for worse, the days when colleges could count on handling such matters quietly behind closed doors are over.

A 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision established potential liability under Title IX for schools that fail to address sexual harassment and, in its extreme form, sexual assault.

Now, Title IX cases represent “the most expensive lawsuits in history’’ against colleges, said Brett Sokolow, managing partner of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management.


Why Federal Education Department may be safe for now, even though it's a GOP target

The US Department of Education is probably safe, for now. No matter who wins in November.

It's been a favored target of the GOP presidential hopefuls, with candidates from Ron Paul to Rick Perry promising it would be one of the first government agencies to face the chopping block.

But – at least according to remarks overheard by reporters Sunday night, during a fundraising event – Mitt Romney would keep it. Although reduce its budget.

"I'm going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I'm probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are to go," Mr. Romney told donors, according to reporters standing on the sidewalk who overheard his remarks. Although he went on to say that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) might be eliminated, he said he had different plans for education. "The Department of Education I will either consolidate with another agency or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I'm not going to get rid of it entirely."

He also addressed teachers unions in his overheard remarks, promising his donors that he'd stand up to them. "The unions will put in hundreds of millions of dollars" to support President Obama's campaign, Romney said. "There's nothing like it on our side."

The smallest cabinet-level department, Education is also one of the most recent. It was established under President Carter and started operating in 1980.

And it's long been a whipping boy of many Republicans, who argue that the federal government has no business being involved in education.

Abolition of the department has been part of the official GOP platform at various times since it was established (and Ronald Reagan tried, and failed, to eliminate it). George W. Bush, however, increased the federal government's role in education with the creation of No Child Left Behind.

These days, Mr. Obama's policies on education – in which he's greatly increased the department's power and used it to push for state laws favoring accountability – are more in accord with some conservatives' views than with, say, the teachers unions'. Indeed, there are rifts within both the Democratic and Republican parties about how the federal government should approach education.

It's not a topic Romney has elaborated on much so far. But in 1994, when he ran for a US Senate seat against Edward Kennedy, he did favor eliminating the department. It was a stance that hurt him at the time and that he brought up in a recent interview to illustrate why he's vague on some positions.

“One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney told The Weekly Standard.

Between now and November, Romney will probably need to get more specific on some of his proposals – including his views on education. He almost certainly favors less of a federal role, and less federal money, in education than Obama or Mr. Bush do. But if his remarks to donors can be believed, the department is likely to stick around awhile longer.


British private   school to create chain of 'happy academies' (charters)

Sounds absurd  -- like California around 1990

A new chain of “happy schools” is being launched by a leading public school and a former aide to the Prime Minister.

The network of state-funded academies will have “well being” at the heart of the curriculum, with lessons in positive psychology for all pupils based on classes pioneered at Wellington College in Berkshire, where fees for boarders are £30,000 a year.

Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington, has appointed James O’Shaughnessy, who until October was David Cameron’s head of policy, to run the scheme.

Mr O’Shaughnessy, a Wellington old boy, is a proponent of the Prime Minister’s controversial “happiness index”, a measure of the nation’s well-being levels to be published this summer.

He said the private school’s brand of education could benefit thousands of children in up to a dozen new academies in the next five years.

“I was initially very sceptical about the happiness and wellbeing stuff,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “But at Number 10 we did a lot of work on it and I came to believe that there was a science to it and that it wasn’t just airy-fairy wishful thinking.

“The field of positive psychology has demonstrable, scientifically tested benefits to people’s mental health. It helps people to lead better lives. It doesn’t mean that money or jobs or other traditional things don’t matter but we all have a sense that there is more to life than that. We want to encapsulate that in an education context.”

Mr Seldon, the biographer of Tony Blair, is in the vanguard of the “happiness agenda”, having introduced it in Wellington in 2006.

The lessons, designed by Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, are aimed at developing pupils’ mindfulness, optimism, emotional resilience and self-confidence.

They are also taught at the new Wellington Academy, in Tidworth, Wiltshire, a state-funded boarding school, sponsored by the independent college with a £2 million donation from Goldman Sachs. It opened in 2009, replacing a failing school.

Mr Seldon is in a minority of independent school head masters who has answered David Cameron’s call for the private sector to play its part in the academies programme by sponsoring nearby state schools.

His new chain, for which he is seeking £5 million private funding, will include a mixture of failing schools, new schools and good schools which want to convert to academy status under the Government’s expansion plan.

They will join the 1,641 secondary schools in England, out of a total of 3,261, that are now academies or have applied to be one.

The Wellington chain curriculum will be built around the aim of developing pupils’ character.

For instance, English lessons could involve looking at the strengths and weaknesses of characters in classic English literature to encourage pupils to consider their own.

“There is a false dichotomy in British education – that it is about learning facts or producing happy people,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “The truth is, it is about both.

“If you think about what those really good public schools do so well, develop the personality traits of optimism and ambition, altruism, service, character and grit, these things are not advertised in the glossy brochures but they are implicit in the kind of education parents pay good money for.

“They have developed over decades of tradition and they are in every brick. That is what we want to transfer. We don’t just want a good group of schools, but a tangible 'Wellington group’ of schools.”

The former adviser said the approach, based on the positive psychology pioneered by Martin Seligman, an American psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, had a scientific basis.

As a result, it differed from the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme, which the Labour government spend millions of pounds on to little discernible effect, he claimed.

“It is not the same thing,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “It is very far from the 'Are you all right, are you happy?’ approach that turns into fluff at one end of the spectrum. The resilience programme developed by Pennsylvania University has been adopted by the US Army for over a million soldiers, it is a tough approach.”

Academies are schools which are funded directly from Whitehall and independent of local authority control. They employ their own staff and set their own pay, conditions and curriculum.

Many successful academies are members of chains run by charities and not-for-profit companies such as Oasis Community Learning, the United Learning Trust, Harris Federation, E-ACT and ARK.

The Government argues that academies produce better results. Opponents point to statistics which show that the schools exclude three times more pupils than the national average.

The Office for National Statistics is due to deliver the first official “happiness index” in July.


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