Sunday, April 21, 2013

Judith Grossman: A Mother, a Feminist, Aghast

Unsubstantiated accusations against my son by a former girlfriend landed him before a nightmarish college tribunal

I am a feminist. I have marched at the barricades, subscribed to Ms. magazine, and knocked on many a door in support of progressive candidates committed to women's rights. Until a month ago, I would have expressed unqualified support for Title IX and for the Violence Against Women Act.

But that was before my son, a senior at a small liberal-arts college in New England, was charged—by an ex-girlfriend—with alleged acts of "nonconsensual sex" that supposedly occurred during the course of their relationship a few years earlier.

What followed was a nightmare—a fall through Alice's looking-glass into a world that I could not possibly have believed existed, least of all behind the ivy-covered walls thought to protect an ostensible dedication to enlightenment and intellectual betterment.

It began with a text of desperation. "CALL ME. URGENT. NOW."

That was how my son informed me that not only had charges been brought against him but that he was ordered to appear to answer these allegations in a matter of days. There was no preliminary inquiry on the part of anyone at the school into these accusations about behavior alleged to have taken place a few years earlier, no consideration of the possibility that jealousy or revenge might be motivating a spurned young ex-lover to lash out. Worst of all, my son would not be afforded a presumption of innocence.

In fact, Title IX, that so-called guarantor of equality between the sexes on college campuses, and as applied by a recent directive from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, has obliterated the presumption of innocence that is so foundational to our traditions of justice. On today's college campuses, neither "beyond a reasonable doubt," nor even the lesser "by clear and convincing evidence" standard of proof is required to establish guilt of sexual misconduct.

These safeguards of due process have, by order of the federal government, been replaced by what is known as "a preponderance of the evidence." What this means, in plain English, is that all my son's accuser needed to establish before a campus tribunal is that the allegations were "more likely than not" to have occurred by a margin of proof that can be as slim as 50.1% to 49.9%.

How does this campus tribunal proceed to evaluate the accusations? Upon what evidence is it able to make a judgment?

The frightening answer is that like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, the tribunal does pretty much whatever it wants, showing scant regard for fundamental fairness, due process of law, and the well-established rules and procedures that have evolved under the Constitution for citizens' protection. Who knew that American college students are required to surrender the Bill of Rights at the campus gates?

My son was given written notice of the charges against him, in the form of a letter from the campus Title IX officer. But instead of affording him the right to be fully informed, the separately listed allegations were a barrage of vague statements, rendering any defense virtually impossible. The letter lacked even the most basic information about the acts alleged to have happened years before. Nor were the allegations supported by any evidence other than the word of the ex-girlfriend.

The hearing itself was a two-hour ordeal of unabated grilling by the school's committee, during which, my son later reported, he was expressly denied his request to be represented by counsel or even to have an attorney outside the door of the room. The questioning, he said, ran far afield even from the vaguely stated allegations contained in the so-called notice. Questions from the distant past, even about unrelated matters, were flung at him with no opportunity for him to give thoughtful answers.

The many pages of written documentation that my son had put together—which were directly on point about his relationship with his accuser during the time period of his alleged wrongful conduct—were dismissed as somehow not relevant. What was relevant, however, according to the committee, was the unsworn testimony of "witnesses" deemed to have observable knowledge about the long-ago relationship between my son and his accuser.

That the recollections of these young people (made under intense peer pressure and with none of the safeguards consistent with fundamental fairness) were relevant—while records of the accuser's email and social media postings were not—made a mockery of the very term. While my son was instructed by the committee not to "discuss this matter" with any potential witnesses, these witnesses against him were not identified to him, nor was he allowed to confront or question either them or his accuser.

Thankfully, I happen to be an attorney and had the resources to provide the necessary professional assistance to my son. The charges against him were ultimately dismissed but not before he and our family had to suffer through this ordeal. I am of course relieved and most grateful for this outcome. Yet I am also keenly aware not only of how easily this all could have gone the other way—with life-altering consequences—but how all too often it does.

Across the country and with increasing frequency, innocent victims of impossible-to-substantiate charges are afforded scant rights to fundamental fairness and find themselves entrapped in a widening web of this latest surge in political correctness. Few have a lawyer for a mother, and many may not know about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which assisted me in my research.

There are very real and horrifying instances of sexual misconduct and abuse on college campuses and elsewhere. That these offenses should be investigated and prosecuted where appropriate is not open to question. What does remain a question is how we can make the process fair for everyone.

I fear that in the current climate the goal of "women's rights," with the compliance of politically motivated government policy and the tacit complicity of college administrators, runs the risk of grounding our most cherished institutions in a veritable snake pit of injustice—not unlike the very injustices the movement itself has for so long sought to correct. Unbridled feminist orthodoxy is no more the answer than are attitudes and policies that victimize the victim.


A similar tribunal in 2006 led to the suicide of another demonstrably innocent man:  Charles Plinton.  Sad that nothing seems to have been learned since.  H/T Strange Justice

Incentivising excellence in education

There’s a broad mismatch between educational and broader societal progress that’s puzzling. How is it that schools are organised and education supplied today in basically the same way as they were a hundred years ago? The main difference between education and other sectors is the lack of incentives at work to raise performance.

The theory sounds simple: allow competition through choice, and the rest will follow. Of course, reality is not that simple. Choice operates within broader institutional structures that either support or undermine it. So system design, with attention to how to incentivise improvement, is key if we are going to see any genuine transformation in education.

In Incentivising excellence, I discuss how choice serves as a catalyst for improved quality, and propose reforms to this end. The proposals are underpinned by a comprehensive review of the international evidence that takes into account the methodological strengths and weaknesses of studies, while at the same time paying attention to the competitive incentives of different education systems.

The cross-national research, which focuses on long-term effects, finds that independent-school competition is positive for achievement in PISA, the OECD’s educational ranking system. Competition also reduces costs. The total efficiency gains are striking. This contrasts with PISA’s official report, which fails to note any benefits from competition. This report, however, is not an academic study and it is likely that methodological weaknesses are responsible for the results. There is consequently no reason to disregard the proper academic research on the subject.

In terms of national and smaller-scale programmes, the evidence is mixed. Studies either note positive or neutral impacts. The results showing negative effects of choice are few and far between, while some studies display large gains in various countries.

A key lesson is that most attempts by governments around the work to introduce choice have been flawed.  Many regulate in such a way as to prevent strong supply-side dynamics from arising (often partly because the profit motive is absent), don’t allow schools enough autonomy, and prop up failing schools by giving them additional funds. Such constraints work against true competition.

The English school choice model suffers from these same shortcomings. With proximity as the main tie-break device, rich parents move closer to good schools, thus increasing residential segregation, leaving poor parents with few options. In England, therefore, choice has to a large extent been a chimera.

There is a role for the government in education. The benefits of education for society as a whole, and parents’ need for information that might not be in the interests of suppliers to provide, mean there is a case for government involvement in funding and information provision. But this is far from the prescriptive and dominating role the state currently plays.

Transforming the education system into an education market requires more than just the right to choose schools: it requires careful system-wide reform to a change the incentive structure fundamentally. Only then can we expect a revolution that increases productivity significantly.


Long school summer holidays should be consigned to history, British education boss declares, as he warns of more strikes by teaching unions

The traditional long summer school holiday is a relic of the 19th century and must be consigned to history, Michael Gove declared today.

The Education Secretary said it was wrong that terms were still scheduled for a time when children were needed to help out on farms and most mothers stayed-at-home.

And he warned of more strikes ahead, accusing unions of lacking ambition and putting the needs of teachers before those of children in their care.

Some schools have already overhauled their term patterns, abolishing the long six-week summer holiday.

But Mr Gove wants every school to follow suit, with longer days and shorter holidays.

He told an education conference: ‘We can’t afford an education system that was essentially set in the nineteenth century.’

The government has previously suggested the school day lasting from 7.30am to 5.30pm, boosting learning and making it easier for parents to go to work.

Mr Gove said ‘some of the best schools in the country’ recognise the need to change the structure of the school term and move to a longer school day.

New powers for headteachers to pay good teachers more could also be used to increase school hours, he said.

‘It’s consistent with the pressures of a modern society.  I also think it’s going to be family friendly,’ Mr Gove told the event organised by the Spectator magazine.

‘The structure of the school term and the school day was designed at a time when we had an agricultural economy.

‘I remember half term in October when I was at school in Aberdeen was called the tattie holiday - the period when kids would go to the fields to pick potatoes. It was also at a time when the majority of mums stayed home.

‘That world no longer exists, and we can’t afford to have an education system that was essentially, set in the nineteenth century.’

Mr Gove also renewed his attack on teaching unions, accusing them of fostering a ‘culture of low expectations’ which is holding children back.

He added: ‘One of the tragedies of our time is that the teaching unions have chosen to put the interests of adults, ahead of the needs of our children. And that is why sadly, the unions, as a voice of teachers is diminishing.

‘My challenge not to teachers, but to teaching unions – is to do a better job.’

Asked if Britain was facing more strikes in schools, he replied: ‘Yes. There seems to be a competition between the NUT and NASUWT to compete for members, with each one trying to out radical the other.

‘I think that this is a golden opportunity for teachers to prove what they can achieve.’

He urged the unions to set up a Free School, offering to find them a building and provide funding.

In a speech he said that pupils are at a 'significant handicap' compared to youngsters in East Asian nations who benefit from extra tuition and support from teachers.

Mr Gove said: 'One of the striking things about East Asia is that they do not have what we have in England, is the automatic assumption that you divide children into the achievers and the others, the academic and the vocational.

'They believe that every child can be educated. The assumption is that all children at every year will absorb and learn the curriculum. And their expectations are higher than in this country.

'School days are longer, school holidays are shorter. The expectation is that to succeed, hard work is at the heart of everything.

'And if you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday – and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere - then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.'


No comments: