Columnist Should Concern Himself with Policy Flaws
To the editor:
Jeff Senter's charge of irresponsibility verging on treason, lodged against the Spectator's skeptical editorial stance toward Columbia's "enormously popular" new Sexual Misconduct Policy, is breathtaking. One cannot miss Senter's hostility toward some staffers‚ his refusal to fall in line with the latest campus orthodoxy--the notion that date rape is such a serious crime that even innocence is not a sufficient defense. If a newspaper is not going to say when an enormously popular emperor does not have his Due Process clothes on, then upon whom can we depend to defend liberty?
Senter's attack on me and co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Alan Charles Kors, is mild compared to his attack on the Spectator, but I respond nonetheless. Senter charges that a Spectator staffer was the source of the information in the Wall Street Journal editorial. Actually, much of the factual information recounted by the Journal, along with investigatory leads, was supplied by me, in the form of official documents or Columbia-related Website material. The "contents of a flyer" which Senter charges "originated from Spectator reporting" and was "distorted" by the Journal, was a flyer distributed by SAFER for a campus rally. I happened to be on campus that day visiting my son, Isaac Silverglate '00, and I picked up a discarded flyer from outside Wein Hall. Does Mr. Senter suggest a secrecy classification system for campus trash in order to hide from the public what is happening under the Rupp presidency?)
Finally, I take issue with Senter's characterization of me as "far right." This McCarthyism in reverse is loathsome and incorrect. I have during my career represented the student radicals who took over University Hall at Harvard in the 1970s. I was counsel for Boston's Black Panther Party. I continue to litigate and/or advocate for the right to choose abortion, equal rights for gays, abolition of the death penalty, remedies for police brutality, and, generally, equality before the law. I am a lifelong member of the ACLU and was President (and am a current Board of Directors member) of the Massachusetts affiliate, not a known right-wing splinter group. I remain a liberal who is a libertarian in the area of personal civil liberties and who believes that betrayals of liberty, such as Columbia's new policy, are destroying American liberalism's tradition of protecting liberty and decency. Mr. Senter, instead of trying to defend Columbia's gross violations of fair procedure by practicing character assassination on me, would do better addressing this repressive policy on its merits.
Harvey A. Silverglate
The author is the Co-Director and Vice-President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Oct. 11, 2000
Student's Bias Inhibits Fair Assessement of Policy
To the Editor:
Jeff Senter assails the Spectator and the Wall Street Journal for irresponsible journalism, yet neither his column nor his byline disclose a crucial piece of information that sheds light on why he defends the new draconian Sexual Misconduct Policy: Senter is "Co-Coordinator" of SAFER, the group that advocated for the policy and was criticized in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times as bearing the responsibility for the mass hysteria that enveloped Columbia before the faculty approved the policy. Senter also fails to note that he sat on two committees related to the new policy (including a subcommittee that hired the personnel of the new sexual misconduct office). At best, Senter violates basic journalistic ethics. At worst, he demonstrates the continuing bully tactics of character assassination aimed at those, on campus and elsewhere, who oppose the flawed policy. Senter's "defense" of the most appalling campus kangaroo court in living memory is to attack those who oppose it (and, where FIRE is concerned, with reckless disregard for the truth) without disclosing his agenda. He addresses not one of the points made against the policy (full documentation on the dangerous policy can be found on FIRE's website at www.thefire.org).
Sexual misconduct is a paramount issue, but students should not lose their individual rights as a result of a rape accusation. Above all, a procedure should be designed to get at the truth, and the more serious the charge, the greater the need for protection of the accused. Many students have contacted FIRE, distinguishing, finally, between the policy's intentions and its Star Chamber qualities. They would not trust their own innocence to such procedures, nor that of any loved one. What a catastrophe it would be if the defense of fairness and individual rights became an issue of Right or Left, as Senter would have it become.
As it stands, accused Columbia students will find more protection and fairness in campus tribunals if they transfer to the College of Staten Island (formerly Staten Island Community College). It is a disgrace that Columbia undergraduates and their families pay $30,000 a year to have fewer rights than students in a two-year college.
George Rupp allowed the McCarthyite atmosphere (promoted by the misguided activists) on campus to dominate. The faculty failed miserably in doing their duty. We sincerely hope that the trustees of Columbia will step in and revoke this policy before even one student is put on trial. This would prevent tortious harm and and the scandal of Columbia's shameful disregard for fairness and decency.
Thor L. Halvorssen
The author is the Executive Director of FIRE.
Oct. 11, 2000
Accusations of Inflamatory Rhetoric Prove Hypocricy
To the Editor:
It is certainly interesting to read that SAFER and CMAV members have begun to decry the "inflammatory rhetoric" contained in the Wall Street Journal article that questioned the fairness of Columbia's Sexual Misconduct Policy. Because it wouldn't do to accuse these groups of a little hypocrisy, I guess we can safely assume that the old rallying cry--the one asking George Rupp as to the number of rapes he had covered up--was meant to be taken as a straight-forward inquiry, and not as something even more "inflammatory" than anything the Journal has ever printed on this subject.
Paul Campion, CC '03
Oct. 10, 2000