Campus Free Speech

UMW President Says Feminist Group's Title IX Complaint Is Reckless, Misinformed

And he's right.


Eduardo Montes-Bradley

University of Mary Washington president Richard Hurley had harsh words for the national feminist legal organization sponsoring a Title IX complaint against the university. The complaint is based on "unsubstantiated claims and misinformation," wrote Hurley in a blunt and harshly condemning open letter.

A small UMW campus organization, Feminists United on Campus, filed the complaint with the help of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a national advocacy group. They allege that the university failed to protect members of FUC from harassment and cyberbullying—particularly anonymous threats made using the social media app, Yik Yak. One of the members of the group, Grace Mann, was tragically murdered in her off-campus home a few weeks ago. Her apparent killer, roommate Steven Vander Briel, was apprehended immediately.

The complaint implicitly draws a connection between FUC's anti-sexism activism—which targeted the rugby team because a few members engaged in nonspecifically offensive chanting at a party—the threats made against the group, and Mann's eventual death. (Vander Briel, an on-again, off-again student who had recently re-enrolled, was a former member of the rugby team, though there is no record of him having played a game for nearly the last decade, and the current members of the team didn't know him.)

I previously wrote that the complaint was baseless; there's no evidence that the rugby team, or the Yik Yak comments (which are constitutionally-protected speech), had anything to do with Mann's death. Furthermore, the university did everything it could for FUC. Administrators, including Hurley himself, met with FUC constantly to assuage its concerns.

Given all that, Hurley's criticism of FUC and FMF is well-deserved:

I write to respond to the allegations raised in the Title IX complaint filed against the University of Mary Washington, which we understand the Feminist Majority Foundation funded and recklessly publicized. As an initial matter, we were surprised to learn that you scheduled a press conference on May 7 to publicize the allegations in the complaint, particularly because we had already scheduled to meet with you on June 3 to discuss concerns raised by student members of Feminists United on Campus ("FUC"). You did not inform us of your intent to hold such a press conference. Instead, you sought media attention to publicize the fact of the filing of – and the irresponsible allegations in – the complaint.  It is regrettable that you chose to preempt the opportunity to meet with me to gather information to assess the concerns being raised by a handful of UMW students.

The primary premise of the complaint is that UMW "ignored" students' concerns regarding comments made on the social media app Yik Yak.  That allegation is demonstrably false. …

UMW is committed to fostering a supportive, safe and positive environment for all of our students – men and women alike.  The reprehensible and offensive comments posted on Yik Yak are inconsistent with UMW's values.  Nevertheless, as we have seen recently with other institutions, the publication of unsubstantiated allegations and false narratives hurts not only the reputation of the affected institutions but also the reputation of the proponents who fail to investigate before taking their concerns public.  And in this case, the speculative connection FUC and the Feminist Majority Foundation claim exists between Grace Mann's death and Yik Yak commenters spreads misinformation, and worse yet, it adds undue pain for the grieving Mann family.

In the future, I encourage you to explore fully the allegations you hear from students before you initiate a highly-publicized media campaign with unsubstantiated claims and misinformation.

Read the rest of the letter here.

For more on the Title IX Terror, read my recent column.