A recent op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal has drawn attention to a lawsuit filed against the University alleging academic censorship and sex discrimination in Title IX proceedings.
Originally filed in August 2016, the lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff — a member of the class of 2015 whose identity is withheld in the case — was deprived of due process rights in his University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct proceedings. In addition to accusing the University of discriminating against the plaintiff on the grounds of his sex, it also alleges that Yale punished the student for using rape as an example in a philosophy paper submitted to his female teaching assistant.
“If the lawsuit’s account is accurate, Yale has reached a new low in the annals of campus policing of speech,” political scientist Peter Berkowitz GRD ’87 LAW ’90 wrote in the April 3 op-ed. “Far from protecting the right to ‘discuss the unmentionable’ in accordance with the Woodward Report, Yale is stretching the boundaries of censorship by abridging the right to discuss even the uncontroversial.”
Yale denied the charges in the lawsuit as “legally baseless and factually inaccurate,” University spokesman Tom Conroy said, promising a rigorous defense.
According to the lawsuit, the student was instructed to attend “sensitivity training” at Yale Mental Health and Counseling after submitting a paper on Plato’s “Republic” in which he denounced rape, arguing that it is a case of how “spirit can be allied with appetite against reason.” The complaint alleged that the plaintiff would not be punished if he were a female.
The lawsuit also claimed that when two female students later filed separate complaints against the plaintiff to the UWC, Yale administrators were biased against him due to his sex and denied him due process rights, such as the right to attorney and a detailed description of evidence before the panel hearing — a standard practice in court but not a compulsory procedure in UWC hearings.
The Title IX coordinator at the time of the incident, Pamela Schirmeister ’80 GRD ’88 — now the senior associate dean and dean of strategic initiatives at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Universities receiving funding from the federal government are obligated to abide by Title IX, a 1972 statute whose enforcement falls to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In a 2011 letter, the OCR instructed schools to investigate, adjudicate and impose punishments when appropriate in sexual assault cases, a responsibility that previously resided with the District Attorney office and policemen.
Berkowitz’s op-ed traced back one of the plaintiff’s defenses to Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld’s “state action” doctrine. The legal theory argues that the 2011 guidelines transformed universities to an agency of government and thus subjected them to constitutional limits of due process and equal protection. Rubenfeld served as the plaintiff’s second adviser in UWC proceedings.
“You are now doing what was previously the exclusive doing of the criminal law apparatus, you better do it well,” said Susan Kaplan, the plaintiff’s lawyer. She added that the University has until mid-May to respond to the complaint.
The lawsuit Berkowitz wrote about, John Doe v. Yale, et al, is one of three current outstanding lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut alleging the University violated students’ Title IX rights in UWC proceedings.