Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

Big Data and Power to the People

school_gradesby James A. Bacon

In the previous post, John Butcher brought to light some incredibly important data long secreted in the Virginia Department of Education — Student Growth Percentile (SGP) scores. There are two aspects to this story. First, the data will bring unprecedented accountability to Virginia schools and school divisions. Second, it is a cautionary tale of how the educational establishment resists transparency that makes that accountability possible.

Brian Davison, who works in business intelligence and software management, had two children in the Loudoun County public school system when he filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2014 to obtain the score. The Loudoun County school superintendent rejected the request, but Davison won in a lawsuit filed against the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond Circuit Court.

The publication of raw SOL scores never resulted in much accountability. SOL numbers are so heavily influenced by the socio-economic status of students (accounting for about 55% to 60% of the variability between schools) that school administrators could plausibly argue that they aren’t responsible for low scores — the economic disadvantage of their student body is. SGP scores get around that excuse by comparing the progress of students, regardless of socio-economic status. In effect, it measures education value added.

As Butcher’s post clearly shows, some school systems out-perform the norm by wide margins, while others under-perform. An analysis of individual schools probably would show the same thing, as would an analysis of individual teachers.

There are many idiosyncratic reasons why a particular student might lag or surge ahead in his or her performance in a given year, so one has to be extremely careful drawing conclusions from small numbers. That makes the data somewhat problematic for assessing the performance of teachers, especially young teachers who have taught only a year or two. However, after enough years, a teacher should have taught enough students that statistically valid conclusions can be drawn about his or her effectiveness. Another issue: Data should be anonymized in order to protect the privacy of school students.

In very rough numbers, schools teachers, principals and administrators account for roughly 40% to 45% of the variability in student performance. No one expects them to perform miracles, but there is little doubt that they can do better. A critical step is identifying which teachers are consistently doing well and which ones are doing badly in order to incentivize the good ones to stay and the bad ones to leave. Another step is identifying which principals are doing a good job, like Tina McCay at Goochland Elementary School (mentioned here). Finally, voters need data to judge the performance of senior school division administrators and school board members.

I’m doubt the story will end here. There will be endless haggling over how to interpret the numbers — and that’s how it should be. But be not mistaken: This is a game changer. Citizens and parents now have a tool of unprecedented power to cut through the dodging and weaving, the hedging and prevaricating, to hold educators accountable. Now let’s go out and use it!

SGPs: Bringing Accountability to School Systems

by John Butcher

For much too long, the principal measures of educational quality were inputs: budgets, teacher salaries, class sizes, pupil/teacher ratios, and the like.  Grades did not compare from school to school or even class to class. Specialized tests such as the SAT reached only limited numbers of students and, in the SAT case, measured intelligence rather than achievement.

This situation was disrupted in 2002 by the No Child Left Behind Act, which conditioned Title I federal support on statewide testing.  Whatever their other strengths and weaknesses — see, e.g., the Wikipedia discussion — the resulting testing schemes gave us measures of outputs.

The scores, however, were strongly dependent on the economic status of the students being tested.  For example, on Virginia’s 2014 English Reading SOL tests, a 10% increase in the division count of economically disadvantaged students was associated with a 3.4% decrease in the division average pass rate.


(Click for more legible image.)

The Federales figured this out and, beginning in 2011, required states to develop a growth measure with data for reading/language arts and mathematics in the tested grades. Virginia settled on the Student Growth Percentile, the “SGP.”

Stated briefly, the SGP compares the progress (year-to-year score change) of each student with the other students in the state who had similar prior scores.  That progress then is expressed as a percentile ranking.  Thus, a student with a 60 SGP had a score increase better than 60% of the students with the same “prior achievement.”

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has a page of discussion with further links here.  A 2011 PowerPoint from VDOE’s Director of Research and Strategic Planning has a very clear discussion.


(Click for more legible image.)

The advantage of the SGP is that it compares students with peers as to achievement.  Thus, students with low SOL’s (and, likely, low family wealth) are compared with students in similar circumstances.  The Virginia reading data demonstrate how this produces data that are largely independent of economic disadvantage.

Note here the weak correlation (11% R2, vs. 57% for the SOL chart above) and the weaker effect of economic disadvantage (14% SGP decrease compared to a 38% decrease in the SOL).

Data elsewhere show an even weaker relationship between SGP and economic disadvantage: Continue reading

Campus Rapes Must be Reported to Police

hunting groundBy Peter Galuszka

You can’t have it both ways.

The Virginia General Assembly is taking steps to make it mandatory that officials at state universities report to police allegations of sexual assault, except for crisis counselors.

The move follows the incident at the University of Virginia which was turned upside down by a flawed report in Rolling Stone magazine that a female student had been gang raped in 2012.

Although there are strong doubts that the rape took place in that case, it broached the issue that if a student reports rape on campus, school administrators may not be inclined to do much about it. The assaults often occur at parties where alcohol is readily available.

After the Rolling Stone bombshell hit, U.Va. officials temporarily suspended activities at fraternities and sororities to sort matters out. The university now has rules that ban mixed drinks and require sober monitors at Greek parties.

That’s a good step, but I think the General Assembly is wise to take it a step further with its requirement that alleged rapes be referred to law enforcement. Why not? Rape is a serious felony nearly up there with murder. Would school officials not report that one student had apparently killed another? Crisis counselors would be exempt from the requirement, so students in pain and unsure of what to do would still have a protected outlet to find help.

The Washington Post editorialized today that the legislature should take slower steps when considering new laws to help prevent campus rape. The newspaper believes that pushing ahead with mandatory rules on reporting rape would make victims not want to report anything at all. It wants to wait until a state commission tasked with reviewing campus rape issues deliver its report.

The Post is wrong here. Rape is rape. Of course it is incredibly personal, but if it is a crime, it should be reported as one. Doing so not only would affirm the rights of the victim, it also might help exonerate supposed perpetrators who have been falsely accused.

Having rape regarded as a true crime would demystify it and allow all sides to deal with it properly. And it’s not as if rape is suddenly no longer a college problem after the Rolling Stone story evaporated. A new documentary released at the recent Sundance film festival called “The Hunting Ground” is said to uproot rape cultures at schools such as Harvard, Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

If the film is accurate, Virginia legislators are right to address the problem, regardless of how the University of Virginia situation played out.

Incidentally,  poll taken by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University shows that 90 percent of voters survey think the police must be informed  of campus rape allegations rather than have them handle internally. The results were released today.

Consumer Transparency for Virginia Colleges

transparencyDel. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, has submitted a bill, HB 1980, that would bring more consumer transparency to Virginia’s higher education system. The bill would require all public four-year colleges and universities to maintain a tab or link labeled “Consumer Information” on the home pages of their websites. That tab or link would be updated annually and include the following institutional data:

  • Six-year undergraduate graduation rate for each of the past 10 years;
  • Freshman-to-sophomore retention rate for full-time undergraduate students for each of the past 10 years;
  • The annual percentage increase in tuition for each of the past 10 years;
  • The annual percentage increase in mandatory student fees for each of the past 10 years;
  • A link to the annual report on the use of student fees;
  • A link to post-secondary education and employment data;
  • A statement of the institution’s budget broken down by department for the current and previous fiscal years, with links to annual reports.

The bill is backed by a group called Partners for Affordable Excellence @ EDU. Colleges and universities are already required to collect and report most if not all of this information already to the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) but it gets buried in the blizzard of data, and consumers don’t know it exists.

“We view this bill as a motherhood and apple pie bill,” writes James V. Koch, president emeritus of Old Dominion University and a board member of Partners for Affordable Excellence. Making the information readily accessible to consumers, he says, “will lead to better decision-making by students, parents, donors and legislators.”

Sen. Jeff McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Bacon’s bottom line: It will be interesting to see if Virginia’s higher ed lobby resists this bill. Will public colleges and universities engage in cartel-like behavior to suppress valuable consumer data? Or will those institutions that will be portrayed in the best light be willing to play along?

Consumers aren’t the only ones who need to view this data, by the way. So do reporters, bloggers and members of the public who want to hold these public institutions accountable.


How to Raise an Easy $470 Million for Virginia Tech, UVa


VT football — worth $308 million?

If college football teams could be bought and sold on the open market like their professional counterparts, Virginia Tech’s would net about $308.5 million, while the University of Virginia’s would sell for $159.3 million. Those guesstimates come from Ryan Brewer, an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Both teams would rank among the Top 50 of the most valuable college football franchises in the country, with Virginia Tech in 23rd place and UVa in 44th place. Brewer based his calculations on each program’s revenues, expenses, cash flow adjustments, risk assessments and growth projections.

That got me to thinking. Football contributes nothing to colleges’ core academic mission of preparing young people for life. Would it be practical to spin off the football teams as stand-alone, for-profit enterprises? Think about it. If Virginia Tech and UVa could sell their football enterprises, they would reap a $470 million windfall between the two of them. They could use that money to expand academic offerings, invest in technology, reduce debt, reduce tuitions, build endowments or contribute usefully to university life in many ways.

Severing the connection between universities and their football teams would be tricky, of course. The football teams rely upon the universities for their fan base. Universities bask in the glow of their teams’ athletic success. The tribal enthusiasm engendered by successful athletic programs builds student and alumni loyalty and boosts donations. Any spin-off agreement would have to address who owns the football stadiums and related real estate. New questions would arise whether football teams should start paying their “student” athletes.

Any arrangement would have to recognize the symbiotic relationship between the football team and its corresponding university. But severing ownership ties would allow universities to focus on their core missions: educating students and, for larger institutions, conducting research. As it stands now, universities function as not-for-profit conglomerates, mixing education and research missions with a sports-entertainment mission. I think divesting football teams — and male basketball teams as well — is an idea well worth exploring.


The Sexual Politics of Nine Males for Eleven Females

Girls' night out in Chapel Hill. Lucky guy. Photo credit: New York Times.

Girls’ night out in Chapel Hill. Lucky guy. Photo credit: New York Times.

by James A. Bacon

I had sworn to myself to stop writing about the University of Virginia sexual-assault debate, but I have come across an angle that, I believe, has received insufficient attention. In comments to a previous post, Reed Fawell III referred readers to an article by Peter Augustine Lawler on the Weekly Standard discussing the sexual dynamics of college campuses. I agree with some commenters that Lawler’s prose was often dense and overly academic, but I think he made one exceedingly value contribution to the debate: He drew attention to the increasingly lopsided sex ratios on college campuses. Writes Lawler:

The increasing scarcity of men on the residential (and especially residential liberal arts) campus is a headache for administrators, who know that if the disparity grows too large it will discourage applications from young women who want a normal social life. The “enrollment management” news at my college has recently been quite good, with the exception that the gender disparity crept beyond the 60-40 mark that is thought to be a comfort zone.

The proposition that the skewing of sex ratios might affect the sexual culture of a college is not the fevered imaging of conservative pundits only. The New York Times drew attention to the phenomenon as far back as 2010, citing the American Council on Education statistic that 57% of enrollees in American colleges are female. The skewed sex ratio, while a promising sign of women’s ability to succeed in American society, bequeaths an advantage in the mating game to those males who do make it to campus. As the Times wrote:

This puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories. Rachel Sasser, a senior history major … said that before she and her boyfriend started dating, he had “hooked up with a least five of my friends in my sorority — that I know of.”

In China, where the abortion of female fetuses has skewed the population heavily to males, females have used their relative scarcity to bargain more favorable terms in the mating game. Chinese men (or their families) are willing to pay the families of females as much as three times their annual salary in bride price, far more than in the past. A similar phenomenon is occurring in reverse on American college campuses. Men are getting more of what they want (sex) on more advantageous terms (less emotional entanglement) than in the past.

The sex ratio at the University of Virginia is almost as skewed as the national average — 56% female and 44% male, according to US News & World-Report. I would conjecture that this skewed sex ratio feeds a hook-up culture in which women are more likely to provide sex without strings, leading to more of emotionally disconnected sexual encounters than they would prefer. The casual sex of the hook-up culture, when combined with binge drinking, contributes to a range of encounters that the anti-rape movement now describes as “an epidemic of rape.”

Insofar as the skewed sex ratio results from a meritocratic system for identifying students likely to excel in college, there is little we can do about it. As a principled conservative, I do not support affirmative action for males. (I do marvel, though, that liberals seem willing to suspend their usual logic when women, a favored victim group, seem to be the systemic beneficiaries of institutional standards). I highlight the skewed sex ratio because it illuminates what’s happening on campus and it needs to be part of the discussion about sexual assault.

Takeaways From Bob McDonnell’s Sentencing

Mcd sentencedBy Peter Galuszka

The outpouring of support for convicted former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was overwhelming at his sentencing hearing yesterday at which he was told that he will serve two years in a federal penitentiary.

And this very support stands in marked contrast to McDonnell’s performance on the witness stand during his marathon trial last summer. There he alternated between saying that he “holds himself accountable” and then blaming his aides, vitamin salesman Jonnie R. Williams and, of course, his estranged wife Maureen who was set up to take the fall.

So which Bob is really Bob?

In U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer’s courtroom, the hours’ long reading of letters of support and 11 witness testimonials from the stand became tedious and repetitive. Bob kneels down to comfort a sick woman. Bob helps out Katrina hurricane victims on his week-long vacation, builds a basketball court and breaks his jaw. Bob restores voting rights to 8,128 convicted felons who had served their time. Bob’s only flaws are his gullibility and naïvite. Bob writes thank you notes.

The most impressive supporter by far was L. Douglas Wilder, the former Richmond mayor who became the first-ever African-American governor. Always unpredictable, the Democratic politician came down hard on Bob’s side, saying he’s known him for years and found him to “to be of his word.” Wilder touched off applause in the courtroom he blamed Williams as “the man who started this bribe” as “the one who got away clean.”

All of these people were trying to convince Judge Spencer that Bob should not get jail time but 6,000 hours of community service. One option would be to stick him in a service coordination job on the island nation of Haiti. The job normally would pay $100,000 including benefits but Bob wouldn’t get the money and would work and have to sleep in a hot and buggy room. Other possibilities including holding an unpaid $60,000 job coordinating a food bank in southwest Virginia.

To his credit, Judge Spencer didn’t bite. Prosecutor Michael Dry said that McDonnell is free to do all the community service he wants after he serves his time behind bars. McDonnell could have gotten more than 12 years in prison. Spencer gave him two.

The sentence is on the light side but is probably fair. McDonnell has been tremendously humiliated. He completely dishonored his public trust and will go down in history as the Virginia governor who was corrupt. At least he is getting some jail time.

And he might win on appeal. It’s not a slam dunk but there is respected legal opinion out there that “honest services fraud” can be viewed in a tight or loose focus. Spencer chose a tight focus but we will have to see if the appeal McDonnell has filed gets to the U.S. Fourth Circuit and then Supreme Court.

Next up is wife Maureen, who is a tragic figure and also was convicted of corruption. Her own daughters characterized her as a sick woman who badly needs help. Some columnists have pumped her up, saying she’s the unsung heroine stuck raising the kids while the ambitious politician is selfishly away building his career.

Something about that argument doesn’t ring true to me. Maureen McDonnell may well have despised the time Bob spent away from her but she also was right beside him, pushing her own agenda such as selling nutraceuticals and backing pet programs such as marketing Virginia wines and helped injured military veterans. As First Lady, she was no shrinking violet when it came to letting her wishes known to state employees.

She comes up for sentencing Feb. 20 and now that her husband’s fate is known, it seems likely she won’t get any jail time. If so, maybe she can get the help she seems to badly need and the McDonnell family can start to heal their terrible wounds.

One of the character witnesses Tuesday was William Howell, the Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates who provided the enormously valuable insight that “people would describe Bob as a Boy Scout.” Not only is Howell’s remark insipid, it hides how much he’s responsible for maintaining the total mess that policing ethics among Virginia public officials has become.

No matter how many Wednesday morning Bible studies Howell says he attended with McDonnell, he still did nothing to improve regulation of political donations and gifts. If anything, he’s the problem not the solution since he minimizes every decent initiative to rationalize Virginia’s loosey-goosey system. If there were clear rules, McDonnell may never have gotten caught in his quagmire. He might have known when to avoid crossing the line.

Howell told the court that the General Assembly is busy setting its house right and that McDonnell’s predicament “Most certainly . . . has had a deterrent effect.” That was likely the most ridiculous statement during the five hours of court testimony on a horrid sentencing day.

The “Culture of Rape” Demands Moral Reform

This politicized mindset is a big part of the problem. Sexual assault is a spectrum of behaviors, not a binary proposition.

This politicized mindset is a big part of the problem. Sexual assault is a spectrum of behaviors, not a binary proposition.

by James A. Bacon

Over the past few days I have advanced the argument that there is a very real problem with sexual relations on college campuses, and in particular the University of Virginia, but I take issue with the characterization of the problem as an “epidemic of rape.” The root problem is a drunken college hookup culture.

As the close relative of a woman who experienced rape at gunpoint by a man who broke into her apartment, I see a world of difference between what happened to her and an incident in which, say, a man and woman get wasted, they have sex, and she decides the next day that she was too drunk to have given her consent. To anyone who has lived in terror through a violent rape at the hands of a stranger, not knowing if the man will decide to kill her afterwards, the campus anti-rape movement that conflates the two is both ignorant and morally repugnant.

That said, it is obvious that there is a very real problem of real and/or perceived sexual assault on college campuses in America today. Thousands of young women across America are feeling sexually maltreated and abused; some of them have been subjected to emotional or physical coercion of a less traumatic sort than rape at gunpoint. It is a national problem, and something needs to be done. But what?

One cannot address a problem unless one understands the true nature of the problem. That’s why I have spent so much time dissecting and demolishing the “culture of rape” meme that dominates public discourse today. Today I will discuss some preliminary thoughts on what needs to be done. Before I discuss my thoughts, however, I need to clear the underbrush of some seemingly plausible but ultimately flawed ideas that have been circulating recently.

First is the beguiling idea that college administrations should be compelled to report all alleged sexual assaults to law enforcement authorities. While most would agree that cases like the alleged gang rape at UVa’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house should be reported to authorities, that now-discredited story was dissimilar from the vast majority of sexual assault complaints that occur on campus. The truth is, as Nicole Eramo, UVa’s associate dean of students, has made clear, most young woman have reasons for not wanting to go through a criminal or administrative process. For many women, the alleged offense does not rise to the level sufficient to justify evicting the alleged perpetrator from campus much less sending him to jail. Few college victims possess the intensity of moral clarity that propelled my family member into pressing criminal charges. Women should be allowed to choose based upon the facts of their own experience, not have the decision forced upon them by legislators outraged by the horror of a now-discredited story.

A second beguiling but misguided idea is that we should drop the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 on the theory that banning the sale of alcohol pushes the drunken party hook-up scene into fraternity houses. The logic is that there is something especially pernicious about fraternities — a particularly misogynistic environment, perhaps, where alcohol is readily available in large quantities — and that reversing the ban on alcohol sales will take the partying out of the fraternity houses to locales less prone to binge drinking and misogyny. The evidence that I’ve seen does not back this up.

According to the 2007 College Sexual Assault Study (CSA study), only a small percentage of sexual assaults occurred in fraternity houses, as seen in the data above. While the party scene at the University of Virginia may be concentrated in fraternity houses, students don’t need fraternities to party. Even then, parties were the context for barely more than half of the sexual-assault episodes identified by the CSA study. Bottom line: Sexual assaults are strongly associated with excessive drinking, but there is little evidence that the problem is tied to excessive drinking at fraternity houses. Some may argue that lowering the drinking age and making alcohol more readily available to college students will result in less drinking. I’m open to hearing the arguments but I’m dubious. I  suspect there may be other ways to tackle the problems associated with excessive drinking.

Any campaign against drunken college hook-up sex should have three dimensions: (1) cracking down on binge drinking, whatever the locale (2) holding men more accountable for boorish and/or violent behavior, and (3) urging women to stop putting themselves in situations likely to produce bad outcomes.

The first is to attack the binge drinking problem. Binge drinking leads to bad sex by breaking down inhibitions, causing bad judgment and clouding memories of who said and did what. (By bad sex, I mean sex that women don’t want to participate in but are either pressured into by peer expectations, psychological bullying or physical coercion, or sex that they regret in retrospect.) Eliminate the binge drinking, and you eliminate much sexual assault and regret sex. Continue reading

How Ideology Shapes our Understanding of Sexual Assault

rape_cultureby James A. Bacon

On January 22, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum announcing the formation of a White House task force to protect students from sexual assault. “The prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation’s institutions of higher education is both deeply troubling and a call to action,” he said. “Studies show that about one in five women is a survivor of attempted or completed sexual violence while in college. In addition, a substantial number of men experience sexual violence during college. ”

In April, the task force published a report, “Not Alone,” spelling out recommendations for preventing sexual assaults on campus. “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college,” stated the report. “Most often, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. Many survivors are left feeling isolated, ashamed or to blame. Although it happens less often, men, too, are victims of these crimes.”

The “one woman in five” figure has become an article of faith, a mantra repeated endlessly without question by the anti-rape movement on campuses around the country. The conviction that universities are experiencing “an epidemic of rape” abetted by a “culture of rape” is driving a White House-led wave of so-called reforms to reduce the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses — including the University of Virginia, as I documented here.

In that post, I characterized the movement to transform college cultures across the country and at the University of Virginia as “ideologically driven.” By that, I meant that the White House is imposing a narrative upon the issue of sexual assault on campus, and that its recommendations for addressing the problem flow from that narrative. With today’s post, I back up that statement.

Sexual assault statistics. The best place to start unpacking the ideological biases of the anti-rape movement is the ubiquitously quoted “one woman in five” figure. The most authoritative source for that figure comes from a 2007 study, “The Campus Sexual Assault Study,” prepared for the National Institute of Justice and written by Christopher P. Krebs, Christine H. Lindquist, and Tara D. Warner.

That study was based upon a Web survey of 5,466 college women at two large public universities, one in the South and one in the Midwest. As the authors concede, a “limitation of the CSA Study, inherent with Web-based surveys, is that the response rates were relatively low. … lower than what we typical achieve using a different mode of data collection (e.g. face-to-face interviewing).” The authors recruited students through emails and recruitment letters. The authors do not consider the possibility that women who had experienced a sexual assault were more motivated to respond to the survey — especially if campus anti-rape groups were drawing attention to the surveys and urging women to participate.

The survey also questioned 1,375 males about sexual assault, asking them to self-report (with promises of anonymity) instances in which they perpetrated sexual assaults. Only 1.8% of males reported perpetrating any type of sexual assault while in college. In other words, there was a vast gulf in perception between males and females — 2% versus 20% — regarding the incidence of sexual assault. The numbers reported were so low, wrote the authors, that they “seriously doubt the validity of the data.” But was that skepticism warranted? While it is possible that males under-reported the rate at which they committed sexual assaults, it is also possible that females over-reported the extent to which they were the victim of assaults. Rather than question the validity of the data reported by females, the authors chose to question the validity of the data reported by males. Needless to say, no one in the “epidemic of rape” movement quotes the 1.8% figure reported by males.

Another crucial issue is how the authors define “sexual assault.” Not only does the term include assaults occurring as the result of physical force but those that are achieved by the “incapacitation of the victim” — “any unwanted sexual contact occurring when a victim is unable to provide consent or stop what is happening because she is passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated or asleep.” Unwanted sexual contact includes not only oral, anal or genital rape but “sexual battery (i.e. sexual assault that entailed sexual touching only).” It goes without saying that ascertaining sexual assault when one or both parties are drunk, drugged or otherwise incapacitated is a highly subjective matter — a matter that may explain much of the difference in male and female perception.

Those who decry the “epidemic of rape” do not cite these caveats because doing so would undermine their “one woman in five” narrative. Nor, incidentally, do they typically cite the authors’ findings that certain factors are associated with an increased risk of sexual assault. The more women drink, the greater the chances they will experience an incident that gets classified as sexual assault. Likewise, the greater the number of sexual partners, the greater the chances of sexual assault. (That’s not to say that women who drink or have sex with many partners “deserve” to be raped — they don’t. But it is to say that their encounters may fall into gray areas in which the issue of consent is not easily sorted out.)

sexual_assault_trendsInterestingly, a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report published earlier this month, “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013,” shows a dramatically lower rate of victimization — between four and nine incidents annually per 1,000 students between 1997 and 2o13, a rate that translated into roughly five percent of all female college students over the period. The BJS study does employ a narrower definition of sexual assault — threatened, attempted or completed rape and assault — while excluding unwanted contact such as forcible kissing, fondling or grabbing, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable to the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study. But two findings stand out. First, the rate of sexual assault declined by roughly half between 1997 and 2013, in direct contrast to the rising alarm on college campuses. Second, the rate of sexual assault for non-students is 1.2 times higher than for students, suggesting that factors not related to the college experience may be playing a role. Continue reading

Sexual Assault Reform: UVa’s White House Connection

President Obama signs a memorandum  establishing the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault . (Official White House photo.)

President Obama signs a memorandum establishing the White
House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault . (Official White House photo.)

by James A. Bacon

Reed Fawell III and I generated a furious response yesterday when we posted a detailed account of how the University of Virginia administration used Rolling Stone magazine’s infamous gang rape story to galvanize support for what we described as an “ideological” agenda for combating sexual assault on campus.

Fellow blogger Peter Galuszka chastised us: “You guys go through a faithful narrative and then blow it by accusing Sullivan of ideology. You offer absolutely NOTHING to back this up. I am afraid this dumps you into the category of right wing nuts who want to use Rolling Stone’s flawed story to disabuse humanity that there may be a problem of sex abuse on campus and that it is the scheme of overwrought feminists.”

Regular reader and commenter Larry Gross also unloaded with both barrels: “You betrayed your partisan perspective where you seek to blame Sullivan and the White House. … You guys cannot seem to help yourselves… everything leads back to ‘liberals’, the POTUS and progressivism.”

Actually, we never mentioned “feminists” or the “POTUS” in our article. We simply noted the ties between the UVa administration and the “White House.” Peter and Larry were the ones connecting the dots, not us. But if they want to go down that road, let’s see where it takes us.

There are two important questions here: (1) How closely does UVa’s approach to combating sexual assaults on campus track the recommendations of the Obama administration, and (2) to what extent is that approach driven by ideology? Before delving into the weeds, let me define what I mean by “driven by ideology.” I mean that there was no attempt to gather, weigh or otherwise analyze the facts. Rather, the White House/UVa administration imposed a pre-existing, left-wing narrative upon the issue, and its recommendations flow from that narrative.

Sexual assault and violence against women has been an ongoing concern at the University of Virginia for many years, as it has for many universities across the country.  Between 1998 and June 2014, the university’s Sexual Misconduct Board held 26 hearings, with 13 ending in findings of guilty and one admission of guilt prior to a finding, according to a university statement. Offenses ranged from rape to stalking and sexual harassment. The university also had been subjected to a number of lawsuits and charges that the administration was not doing enough to protect women’s rights, as argued in the Title IX: Campus Accountability blog. As early as the summer of 2011, the University of Virginia began working with the federal Office of Civil Rights to review policies and practices regarding so-called Title IX sexual misconduct.

The University ramped up its efforts to address sexual misconduct early in 2014. Pulling in speakers and attendees from around the country on Feb. 10-11, the “Dialogue at UVa: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students” conference examined a range of problems, from stalking to date rape, from the sex-without-strings hook-up culture to the complexities of adjudicating sexual assault cases. Among the outside participants was Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights who heads the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

Less than three weeks previously, President Barack Obama had established a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The mission was to “develop a coordinated Federal response to campus rape and sexual assault.” The concrete deliverable was to be an “action plan” that detailed best practices and measures for success and prevention.

Emily Renda, an anti-rape activist who had been sexually assaulted her first year at the University, participated in the sexual assault task force as a UVa representative. A fourth-year student, she had been selected in December 2013 through a “highly competitive process” as a “special intern” in the office of President Teresa Sullivan as an intern. She traveled to the White House at least five times to take part in task force activities. Upon graduation at the end of the semester, she would take on a staff position at the university’s Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. In that position, she would go on to testify before a Senate committee on the subject of sexual assault, and to speak for the university in media appearances as varied as NPR and MSNBC’s PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton.

In April, the White House task force published its report, “Not Alone,” summarizing its findings and recommendations. “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college,” stated the report. “Most often, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. Many survivors are left feeling isolated, ashamed or to blame.” The report issued four sets of recommendations, including one for the federal government and three for colleges and universities. The latter included:

  • Campus climate surveys. “The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it – and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that. We are providing schools with a toolkit to conduct a survey – and we urge schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year.”
  • Preventing sexual assault and engaging men. “Prevention programs can change attitudes, behavior – and the culture. …  Most men are not perpetrators – and when we empower men to step in when someone’s in trouble, they become an important part of the solution. … We are also providing schools with links and information about how they can implement their own bystander intervention programs on campus.”
  • Response to sexual assault. Colleges need to have someone to whom victims can talk in confidence and who will fully inform them of their options for redress.
  • Sexual misconduct policy. Schools need to define what does and does not constitute consent to sexual activity.
  • Special training. The Justice Department will provide training programs that inform college and university personnel about special issues associated with sexual-assault crimes. “Unlike other crimes, victims often blame themselves; the associated trauma can leave their memories fragmented; and insensitive or judgmental questions can compound a victim’s distress.”
  • School disciplinary systems. The task force also raised the issue of colleges’ adjudication process for handling sexual assault cases, which sometimes subject victims to “harsh and hurtful questioning” by people “unschooled in the dynamics of these crimes.” The Justice Department will assess different models for investigating and adjudicating campus sexual assault cases “with an eye toward identifying best practices.”

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