Polis calls his remarks against due process in campus sexual assault a “major gaffe”

Rep. Jared Polis is not known for nuance. This was abundantly clear last week when he suggested in a Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training hearing that colleges and universities lower standards of proof needed to get rid of students accused of sexual assault – an argument he described yesterday in a Medium article titled “I Misspoke” as “a major gaffe.”

His original argument went like this:

“It seems like we ought to provide more of a legal framework, then, that allows a reasonable likelihood standard or a preponderance of evidence standard,” he said to the committee. “If there are 10 people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people. We’re not talking about depriving them of life or liberty, we’re talking about them being transferred to another university, for crying out loud.”

You can see the subcommittee hearing below. Polis’ remarks start at 1:56.16

[youtube id=”MPy3YVgIZrM” width=”620″ height=”360″]

Law professor and USA Today contributor Glenn Reynolds wrote in a Monday column that Polis’ proposal would create “a hostile educational environment for male students.”

Libertarian leaning Reason Magazine posed the question, “But what if Polis’s own son was among a pool of students accused of sexual assault? Would Polis really want his student expelled under such a jarringly low standard?”

In yesterday’s article, Polis offered a vulnerable apology.

“During that exchange I went too far by implying that I support expelling innocent students from college campuses, which is something neither I nor other advocates of justice for survivors of sexual assault support. That is not what I meant to say and I apologize for my poor choice of words.”

He also attempted to address his critics by clarifying his position, arguing that the criminal justice system inadequately addresses the rights of sexual assault survivors and that campuses are doing the right thing by not mandating that every case should go to court.

“To most people who don’t know much about this issue, it makes sense to solely adjudicate these cases in our criminal justice system, just like we do other crimes. The witness mentioned above who I was questioning was arguing for just such an approach.

However, this is a deeply dangerous idea that demonstrates a cursory and superficial understanding of the issue. Ask any sexual assault advocate and they’ll tell you the same thing.”

He concludes:

“Yes, balancing the needs for campus safety and due process is not easy. But the answer is not simply to tell schools to wash their hands of all responsibility on the issue and refer every student to a court system in which justice is elusive (for every 100 rape cases reported, only three rapists will ever serve a day in prison).

Instead, we should be working together toward the same goal: college campuses where survivors feel empowered to come forward and where administrators have the resources they need to handle these cases promptly, fairly and equitably.”

You can read the full article here.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr