Philosophy is ‘Not to Expel’
To IU deans — and their colleagues elsewhere — the outcome in Margaux’s case shows the college process works; it ended in what Freeman calls “a very strong sanction.” Expulsion at many schools, including IU, seems anathema. For instance, IU officials have expelled only one of 12 students found responsible for alleged sexual assaults in the past four years, as compared to seven suspensions and four probations or reprimands. “Our basic philosophy is not to expel,” confirms Freeman. The university will kick out a student believed to be a threat, she says, yet “that does not mean that every single person found responsible for sexual assault gets expelled. They’re not all predators.”
But critics say that attitude fails to recognize a disturbing reality about campus rape: Many incidents go beyond “miscommunication” among two drunk students — a common characterization among school officials — to predatory acts. Lisak, the U-Mass professor, has studied what he terms “undetected rapists” on college campuses. His research suggests that over half of student rapists are likely repeat offenders who rape an average of six times. Yet administrators, Lisak observes, “think of serial rapists as the guy who wears a ski mask and jumps out of the bushes.”
“Schools that overlook this paradigm are failing their female students,” charges Bruno, of the Victim Rights Law Center, referring to Lisak’s research. “Giving someone a deferred suspension is like giving someone carte blanche to do it again.”
Some victim advocates argue that anything less than expulsion — or a years-long suspension — violates the Title IX federal law banning sex discrimination in education. Under Title IX, schools must meet three requirements if they find a sexual assault has occurred: end a so-called “hostile environment”; prevent its future occurrence; and restore victims’ lives. “None of that says you have to educate the offender,” says Sokolow, of the Higher Education Risk Management Center. And when punishment fails to fulfill these obligations, adds Sokolow, who trains schools on the law, “That has the potential to violate Title IX.”
Administrators note that the law does not require expulsion in sexual assault cases or specify any punishment. For them, the practice of combining penalties makes for effective and legal sanctioning without jeopardizing the educational mission. But lawyers contend that colleges and universities are missing the broader legal point: By not punishing culpable students, schools are setting up student victims for years of anguish because they have to encounter their alleged assailants over and over.
“It’s really a question of entitlement to education,” says Diane Rosenfeld, a Harvard law professor who specializes in Title IX. Often, she notes, student victims become deprived of this legal guarantee because they choose to leave school rather than have to face their alleged attackers, even accidentally. “Expulsion should be a given under Title IX,” Rosenfeld adds. She, like many critics, wonders how leaving an alleged perpetrator on campus would not perpetuate a hostile environment.
Certainly, the lives of alleged victims are upended. In April 2006, Angela Tezak, a former student at Pennsylvania State University, participated in an informal proceeding after reporting being raped in an off-campus apartment by a fellow student. At the time, she struggled with depression, and lived in fear of seeing her alleged attacker, rarely leaving her apartment. “What he did really devastated me,” Tezak confides.
Her proceeding proved equally devastating. Tezak expected the alleged assailant to face serious consequences after Penn State administrators found him responsible for “nonconsensual oral sex” and “nonconsensual intercourse.” She remembers Joe Puzycki, assistant vice president for student affairs, calling to inform her that the accused had, as records show, “accepted responsibility.” But Tezak also learned that the school intended to sanction the student, a senior, simply by delaying his degree for a year, in what Penn State records describe as “temporary expulsion.” Days later, Tezak ingested “a big handful” of sleeping pills, landing in the hospital for five days. Penn State records show she never attended a final meeting with Puzycki because of her hospital stay. Tezak says administrators never gave her a chance to request or appeal the sanction. She ended up dropping out, and eventually transferred.
The alleged assailant, for his part, remembers several meetings with Puzycki, who, he says in an e-mail, “coerced me against my will to sign a document accepting sanctions even though I’m 100 percent innocent.” The administrator, he claims, explained that he could appeal Tezak’s complaint — which he calls “baseless and wholly untrue” — yet portrayed a formal hearing as futile, and virtually guaranteed to end in permanent expulsion. Rather than face such a prospect, the accused says, he chose to “negotiate lesser sanctions.” He offered to do counseling, for instance, in exchange for being able to walk in his May 2006 convocation.
“The way I saw it,” he relays, “I was between a rock and a hard place and my choice was, ‘Which is the two lesser evils?’” Puzycki, he claims, told him the temporary expulsion would appear as “a black mark” on his transcript for up to five years. It has not prevented him from landing several jobs since.
Puzycki declined to discuss Tezak’s case, referring a list of questions to Peggy Lorah, director of Penn State’s Center for Women Students. Lorah, who served as Tezak’s advocate, insists the university followed standard procedures, including that final meeting with alleged victims to approve punishment. Told that records show otherwise, Lorah replied: “The actions that were taken were in accord with what the victim wanted at that time.”