In July, following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, the University of Notre Dame agreed to new policies that weaken the due process rights of students facing charges of sexual harassment or assault.
Notre Dame was the first university to come under pressure from the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) since the office's April 4 letter instructing college administrators how they should deal with such cases. To comply with regulations governing recipients of federal money, the OCR said, colleges should require that allegations of sexual harassment or assault be proven based on a "preponderance of the evidence" (meaning more likely than not to be true), as opposed to "beyond a reasonable doubt" (the standard used in criminal cases) or "clear and convincing evidence" (an intermediate standard currently used by many schools). Notre Dame, which OCR investigated after reports of sexual assault and a related suicide on campus, also agreed to let complainants appeal acquittals, exposing accused students to double jeopardy.
Other schools could face similar federal investigations. "OCR controls the lifeblood of universities," warns Greg Lukainoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "They can essentially impose a death sentence on universities."