Letter: Dartmouth’s Efforts on Sex Assault

To the Editor:

Thomas Curphey’s letter asserting that Dartmouth’s proposed sexual assault policy violates students’ rights prompts this response. The constitutional protections noted by Mr. Curphey are available when the federal government proceeds against an individual. The Fourteenth Amendment ensures these rights when a state is proceeding. These rights are not guaranteed when a private entity acts.

State educational institutions are bound by the constitutional protections cited by Mr. Curphey. Private colleges, such as Dartmouth, are not. Nevertheless, private colleges often devise what is denoted as fair process and they incorporate elements of the constitutional provisions commonly called due process.

A private college is entitled to set standards of conduct that it deems to be appropriate for its community and to define the process through which those standards are upheld. The college’s objective is to graduate persons who have developed their intellects and who have developed social and emotional maturity that allows them to move into the larger society as sensitive and respectful individuals. To achieve these goals, the college standards may impose sanctions when the actions involved would not constitute criminal behavior and the process may deviate from the broader constitutional protections.

Integrating the society’s standards and process with the college’s standards and process is challenging. To avoid impairing a student’s exercise of those protections afforded in a criminal proceeding, a college may defer its disciplinary process until a criminal proceeding has concluded. The college’s subsequent action may then be premised on the outcome of the criminal case. Or, a further internal investigation may then commence. In egregious cases, the college may proceed concurrently or before criminal charges are resolved. In positive environments, a coordinated response by the college and the criminal justice system may divert the offending student into nonjudicial rehabilitation.

It is often difficult for those who have not experienced this milieu to understand why and how a private college proceeds. As a former general counsel to a private university that faced the challenges now facing Dartmouth, I hope that my perspective will help the community understand and support Dartmouth in its current efforts.

Roger E. Bloomfield