A reader, Christine Kopec, a law professor at Skidmore College who lives in Cambridge, sent me an email after my recent column on sexual harassment policies on college campuses, which I called a fiasco.
She objected to that characterization and suggested we talk about it, so I drove down to the campus and went to her office.
Kopec worked as a lawyer before going into teaching. I looked her up on ratemyprofessors.com and she got high marks, although all the students called her “hard.” She has a friendly but no-nonsense way about her.
She talked about the policy at Skidmore, which follows the guidance in a 2011 letter from the Obama administration. The letter told school administrators nationwide that if they failed to do enough to address student sexual misconduct, they could be found in violation of Title IX and would endanger their federal funding.
Kopec pointed out the criminal justice system requires clear evidence of a crime and must reach clear-cut conclusions, while students can behave in a way that is not clearly criminal but is, nevertheless, improper.
We’re talking about violations of college rules, not laws, she said. In the worst case, a student will get expelled, but often the punishment falls short of that — he has to attend a workshop, for example, or write a letter of apology.
People probably do get punished for encounters that were consensual, or at least, that were mutually non-consensual, because both participants were drunk.
But not as many people — men, most of them — are able to get away with the bad, destructive behavior as they were in the past.
She convinced me that Skidmore is trying in good faith to deal with a problem that could never be addressed by the police and courts.
The new guidance from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will help, I think. She is insisting on more due process protections for accused students. But she isn’t stripping away protections for victimized students, as some shrill internet headlines have declared.
So I’ll take back “fiasco,” but I am glad DeVos has intervened.
Colleges have to find a middle ground in this fraught debate, between a heartless rejection of any claim that can’t be proved in court and an unfair assumption of guilt for anyone accused of sexual impropriety.
It’s not easy, but Kopec is known for her hard assignments.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at email@example.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at