by James A. Bacon
Things have come to a strange pass when I find myself defending University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan. In past posts, I have been highly critical of her performance. But, while I think there are legitimate grounds for criticizing her, some attacks just go too far. A recent case in point is an op-ed published by Del. David I. Ramadan, R-Loudoun, in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In arguing that it’s time for Sullivan to “go” — presumably to resign — he lays upon her the full responsibility of every sin real and alleged that has been hurled against UVa in the two or three years, from the supposed “epidemic of rape” to ABC agents’ use of excessive force to subdue a black student who’d been drinking near the university grounds.
Perhaps there is rough justice at work here. Citing two documents — an American Association of Universities (AAU) “campus climate” survey and an Office of Civil Rights report on UVa’s response to sexual assaults — Ramadan paints a picture of UVa where one in four women say they they have been sexually assaulted during the past academic year and the university has acted insufficiently to eliminate the “hostile environment” toward women. That’s especially rich because Sullivan, through words and actions, contributed to that perception. In so doing, she helped perpetuate the atmosphere of hysteria that threatens to consume her. But blaming her for failing to address the supposed rape epidemic is manifestly unfair.
At the University of Virginia [the number of rape, assault or sexual misconduct] was 23.8 percent, with 13.4 percent of undergraduate women saying they had been assaulted during the past academic year alone. In plain English, it means that almost 2,000 daughters — daughters who wanted only a decent education — may have suffered unspeakably.
The disturbing report issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) tells a sickening story of gang rape and multiple accusation against the same accused perpetrators, says the university failed “to eliminate a hostile environment” and, worse still, didn’t act to protect the safety of the broader university community.
Let’s make something clear: The two documents Ramadan cites are highly politicized, created to advance the Obama administration’s “war on women” narrative. A sincere, well-meaning, liberal woman, Sullivan is collateral damage.
Let’s talk first about the AAU survey. The survey was conducted in a wave of orchestrated hype to advance the narrative that an “epidemic of rape” is sweeping through American universities. There is indeed an epidemic of sexual misbehavior, much of it revolving around the excessive use of drugs and alcohol, but the study methodology and conclusions were designed to create the impression that thousands of young women are being subjected to violent rape on campus. There is a problem with rape on campus — and any rape is too many — but the problem is not nearly as severe as portrayed.
The first thing you need to know about the survey is that it was based upon a response rate of 26.4% — one quarter of the student body. The study never accounts for the possibility that the sample might have been biased by the fact that students (especially women) who had experienced sexual assault were far more likely to participate in order to make their voices felt, or that the highly vocal and well organized anti-rape movement on campus likewise might have spurred like-minded people to take part. I would argue that the highly emotional atmosphere of UVa in the wake of the Rolling Stone gang rape allegations skewed the participation rate. This is confirmed by the fact that the 26.4% response rate at UVa was significantly higher than the 19.3% average response rate for the other 27 institutions of higher education included in the survey.
Now, let’s dig into the number of self-reported victims of sexual assault. Ramadan correctly quotes the AAU study as saying that 23.8 percent of female undergraduates reportedly experienced some kind of “sexual assault” since entering UVa. But that includes a wide range of offenses.
The percentage of undergraduate women who described themselves as victims of rape (forced to have sex by physical force or the threat of force) was only 3.0%. Of course, that’s way too many — the only permissible percentage is zero — but it’s a far, far cry from one in eight! The overwhelming majority of these “sexual assaults” constituted unwanted sex that occurred as a result of “incapacitation” — the parties were inebriated — or of unwanted groping. I condemn both, but they are a very different matter than violent rape.
Please note that these numbers refer to undergraduate women. The rate of such incidents for female graduate students is about one-third the rate for undergraduates. The percentage for married graduate females was even lower — pretty close to the incidence for society at large, I would wager. In other words, the epidemic of rape/regret sex/unwanted groping is overwhelmingly an undergraduate phenomenon, not a phenomenon afflicted female students randomly across campus. Why would that be? Could it have something to do with the culture of hook-ups and drunken sex that is much more prevalent among undergrads than graduate students? If that’s the case, it changes the complexion of the problem.
Among all female victims of non-consensual sex, 70.1% said they had been drinking alcohol prior to the incident, 5.0% had been taking drugs; 27.3% said they had passed out. Only 13.0% reported being physically injured. And 71.2% of those who did not contact either university or police authorities said that they “did not think it was serious enough to report,” and 27.2% said they “did not want to get the person in trouble.” (Oh, and another 13% said the incident did not occur even while attending school!) As for the non-consensual touching, 79.1% said they did not think it was serious enough to report.
If I were a parent, I’d be very worried about my daughter getting sucked into a drunken, party hook-up environment where bad things happen. But if my daughter steered clear of that environment, I wouldn’t worry at all. For whatever other faults she may have as university president, Teresa Sullivan did not create the drunken, party hook-up culture nor can she expected to eradicate it within two years.
The Office of Civil Rights report cited by Ramadan looked into how UVa handled complaints and reports of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, in order to “determine if the University has responded promptly and equitably.” The OCR found that UVa did not respond promptly and equitably to “some complaints” in the 2008-2009 through the 2011-2012 academic years, nor to two complaints filed in 2013 and 2014. Remember, Sullivan did not arrive until August 2010.
Since then, the report notes, the University had, among other efforts:
created and filled a dedicated Title IX Coordinator position; expanded investigative capacity in the Office of the Dean of Students to develop, evaluate, implement, and assess evidence-based prevention strategies that seek to reduce sexual assault, gender-based violence and “high-risk activities in student organizations”; reviewed and enhanced training and prevention programs for students and employees, including alcohol education programming and other student outreach efforts; secured funding to hire additional mental health counselors; and developed a Title IX website to provide a central resource for Title IX resources and educational materials.
The report goes on and on in that vein, then concludes: “These important efforts are commendable and speak to a University commitment to embrace the Title IX responsibilities and promote a safe learning environment.”
Ramadan didn’t mention that part.
I can’t imagine where he is coming from. Has he whole-heartedly embraced the Obama administration’s Title IX agenda to restructure U.S. higher ed in its campaign against the “epidemic of rape?” Does he really believe that Sullivan insufficiently towed the line? For a Republican legislator, his accusations are just bizarre.
I’m not a big fan of Teresa Sullivan, but Ramadan’s charges don’t stand up. The “epidemic of rape” (wildly exaggerated as it is) did not blossom on her watch. She has made strenuous efforts (sometimes misguided, as when she shut down the fraternity tarred by the Rolling Stone article) to change the campus culture. If she’s guilty of anything, it’s her unwillingness or inability to stand up to the Obama administration’s regulatory over-reach. But that’s a story for another blog post.There are currently no comments highlighted.