Oklahoma Wesleyan University Sues Obama Over Sexual Assault Cases Directive

Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
Oklahoma Wesleyan University. | (Photo: Screengrab/YouTube/OKWUniv.)

Oklahoma Wesleyan University recently agreed to join a lawsuit against the Obama Administration over campus sexual assault case standards, arguing that they violate student rights to due process.

The Christian school filed the suit Monday, becoming the first and thus far only higher education institution to challenge a 2011 mandate from the federal government regarding campus sexual assault cases.

In a statement released Monday, Oklahoma Wesleyan President Dr. Everett Piper declared that "OKWU will always defend our students' constitutional rights."

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"We also refuse to accept any government intrusion that would require OKWU to teach the antithesis of our Christian beliefs concerning sexual behavior," said Piper.

"Finally, all of our students should have the legal right to avail themselves of local law enforcement without their petition being compromised by the intrusion of an OCR-mandated committee of amateurs that contravenes the due process and confidentiality of the legal process."

At issue in the litigation is a letter sent by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in April 2011 commonly known as the "Dear Colleague Letter."

In the letter, the OCR advocated for a "preponderance of the evidence" approach to sexual harassment complaints, which it says is in compliance with Title IX standards.

This "preponderance of the evidence" mandate is contrasted with the "clear and convincing" standard some colleges use, which the letter describes as involving "a higher standard of proof."

"Grievance procedures that use this higher standard are inconsistent with the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX," read the letter.

"Therefore, preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard for investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence."

The letter went on to state that public schools and "state-supported schools must provide due process to the alleged perpetrator."

"However, schools should ensure that steps taken to accord due process rights to the alleged perpetrator do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the Title IX protections for the complainant," continued the 2011 letter.

The OCR's letter received criticism from a diverse array of sources. In May, 21 law professors, including Harvard University's Alan Dershowitz, signed an open letter denouncing the mandate.

"In pursuing its objectives, however, OCR has unlawfully expanded the nature and scope of institutions' responsibility to address sexual harassment, thereby compelling institutions to choose between fundamental fairness for students and their continued acceptance of federal funding," stated the professors' open letter.

"Unfortunately, OCR's relentless pressure on institutions to respond aggressively to sexual assault allegations has undermined the neutrality of many campus investigators and adjudicators by forcing them to consider the broader financial impact of their actions."

The American Association of University Professors released a report that was largely negative of the OCR mandate and its implementation of Title IX.

"While successful resolutions of Title IX suits are often represented as unqualified victories in the name of gender equality, this report finds that the current interpretation, implementation, and enforcement of Title IX has compromised the realization of meaningful educational goals that lead to sexually safe campuses," stated the AAUP.

"Since 2011, deployment of Title IX has also imperiled due-process rights and shared governance. This report thus emphasizes that compliance with the letter of the law is no guarantee of justice, gendered or otherwise."

In June, an unnamed University of Virginia student filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against OCR and the Department of Education over the mandate.

The lawsuit was sponsored by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which argues that the mandate violates the due process rights of students accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

"Following the law isn't optional, and discontent with the 2011 'Dear Colleague' letter is widespread and well-documented," said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley, in a statement released in June.

"OCR has acted as though decreasing due process rights will increase justice. In fact, the opposite is true. Real people's lives are being irreparably harmed."

This is not the only lawsuit recently filed against OCR regarding the mandate. Republican Earl Ehrhart of the Georgia House of Representatives filed one suit while former college athlete Grant Neal filed a suit against Colorado State University as well as the Department of Education and OCR.

"Neal, a former football player, was accused of sexually assaulting an athletic trainer and was suspended from Colorado State University at Pueblo in October 2015. Neal was not accused of assault by the trainer, however," reported Inside Higher Ed.

"Instead the alleged assault was reported by another athletic employee who noticed a hickey on the trainer's neck. According to the lawsuit, the athletic trainer said she had not been assaulted."

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