Rolling Stone and the University

It’s been five days since Rolling Stone published its article on sexual assault at the University of Virginia, a.k.a. the shot heard round the Cavalier world.  As a father of three daughters,  I found it profoundly disturbing.

I don’t envy President Sullivan.  In many ways, this wave of negative publicity is akin to Penn State’s child abuse scandal in 2012, but there are no football coaches to blame this time.   It’s the whole campus under scrutiny.

Right now, the allegations are anonymous.  So it’s impossible to verify the details or compare similar charges.  But the reaction of the University to this situation, as reported by Rolling Stone, leaves a lot to be desired.

Let’s start with Principle Number One, learned bitterly from Penn State.  Once a university learns about a violent crime (and a gang rape absolutely qualifies), it must report that crime to the law.  Without delay.   Reputation and privacy are important — but protecting the safety of other students is paramount.

The idea that a violent crime can be “resolved” within the confines of a college resource center or through a Honor Code investigation is the ultimate academic conceit.  There may be a role of colleges in handling conduct which is rude or threatening but not criminal.   A rape is not that case.  It should be handled by the police.

A related point is the ability to control young men, which is the sole population of potential offenders — and a group seemingly removed from the influence of persons who dictate campus policy.

Let me make an obvious point:  a “campus dialogue” or “conversation” on date rape may have some minimal effect on 19 year old males, who have spent the better part of their teenage years receiving lectures on good citizenship.  But it’s limited.

Locking up a fraternity brother for a five year sentence in a state prison or labeling him for life as a “sexual offender”, on the other hand, will definitely get their attention.  I dare say that one such criminal sentence will deter a lot more sexual assaults than a dozen campus rallies or candlelight vigils.

One final point:  the University, the best state university in the nation, has never suffered from a lack of confidence.  Sometimes, that comes across in its students as a sense of entitlement — a sense of immunity.  (I say this with some familiarity.  I attended a lot of UVA parties in the Eighties and then law school in the Nineties).

Sometimes you need to remind these young people that they are, in fact, young people.  In that vein, President Sullivan can put a lid on the worst excesses of Greek life — by requiring a set of parents to live in each fraternity house and make them responsible for any legal violations.  That may actually get fraternities back on track to being a place where men learn to be men, not animals.

It may sound boring, but it beats the hell out of a felony charge.

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