Columbia University Refuses to Defend Its Sexual Misconduct Policy

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports that Columbia University is apparently refusing to publicly defend its controversial sexual misconduct policy. The new policy completely strips persons accused of sexual misconduct of any meaningful rights and has garnered a lot of unfavorable publicity for the university.

On February 23, the Columbia University chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union organized an event to discuss the policy. Along with opponents of the policy, such as Columbia Law professor Vivian Berger, the ACLU invited Charlene Allen, the administrator in charge of Columbia’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education, as well as representatives from the campus group that pushed for the new policy, Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER). SAFER declined the invitation, but Allen agreed to participate. Shortly before the event, however, Columbia issued a statement that Allen would not participate after all. Fox News recently aired a story about the policy, and again Columbia refused to comment on the policy.

FIRE’s Harvey Silvergate said,

Columbia cannot bear the public scrutiny. They didn’t show up at the ACLU event, nor for the television program, because there is no principled defense for their policy. How can they justify the stripping away of the due process protection deemed necessary for hundreds of years. HOw can they justify the stripping away of the due process protections deemed necessary for hundreds of years in a free and decent society? The policy is worthy of the kangaroo courts of the former Soviet Union, the current People’s Republic of China, or Spain under Franco. It is not worthy of a world-class class university in a free country.

A good insight into the sort of thinking that went into this policy was given last year by SAFER co-chair Sarah Richardson. Asked by a reporter about the rights of individuals accused of a crime, Richardson asked, “Why are we so concerned about the rapist?” Guilty until proven innocent is at the core of SAFER’s claims and the “justice” meted out by the Sexual Misconduct Policy.


Columbia University unable to defend policy in public; activist enemies of due process censor FIRE, then make a U-turn. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Press Release, March 13, 2001.

The Feminist Assault on Free Speech: A Review of Nadine Strossen’s Defending Pornography

Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights

By Nadine Strossen
Amazon.Com price: $11.96 (click on above link to purchase)

If it weren’t for the feminist war on pornography, this web site probably wouldn’t
exist. Several years ago, feminists at the university my wife and I attended
at the time decided to target the student newspaper demanding that it stop carrying
advertisements for local strip clubs. The feminists were joined by several local
leftist activists and an odd mix of Christian conservatives from the community
who had long been trying to pass laws to ban pornography in the area.

Perhaps the most surreal scene I ever witnessed in college was watching these
feminist students marching arm in arm with extreme conservatives chanting, “You
see free speech, I say free women.”

Fortunately the feminists were routed, in no small part due to our efforts
and a hilarious conflict among the anti-pornography crowd. I had previously
made a presentation to the paper’s board of directors pointing out that the
paper ran numerous controversial ads and articles and if it caved in to pressure
from the anti-pornography groups it would soon find itself besieged from all

The anti-porn group proved this point when they finally addressed the board.
With about 20 or 30 people showing up to support the anti-porn position, the
chairman of the paper’s board pointed out an ongoing controversy in the paper
over abortion and said he didn’t want to be besieged by “pro-abortion” activists
demanding an end to pro-life articles or ads or vice versa. One of the feminists
in the crowd immediately objected to the term “pro-abortion” saying she preferred
to be called “pro-life”. Before the chair could finish his apology, the feminist’s
erstwhile conservative allies corrected the feminist, saying it was “pro-abortion” and while they were supposed to be making their case for getting rid of the
ads, they sat and fought amongst themselves about proper nomenclature for those
on opposite sides of the abortion issue. Needless to say with that example fresh
in their minds, the board voted down the proposal to get rid of the ads.

At the time my wife and I were mystified as to how feminists ended up taking
an anti-pornography position. Weren’t they aware of the history of the state
using censorship against women? Didn’t they see how limits on men and women’s
free expression undercut the dignity of the individual, which surely was at
the heart of any feminist view of politics? Had either of us read Nadine Strossen’s
excellent book on the anti-porn wars, Defending Pornography: Free Speech,
Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights
, we would have better understood the
tragic and wrongheaded course that feminism, driven by its most radical elements,
has recently embarked on.

Solidly at the steering wheel are author Andrea Dworkin and University of
Michigan Law professor Catharine MacKinnon. As Strossen recognizes it is not
so much sexual speech that Dworkin and MacKinnon ultimately seek to banish,
though that is indeed one of their goals, but at a more basic level what Dworkin
and MacKinnon want to eradicate is heterosexuality itself.

This would seem absurd if they both hadn’t put themselves on record to this
effect on numbers occasions. As Dworkin puts it in one of her milder moments,
“It’s very hard to look at a picture of a woman’s body and not see it with the
perception that her body is being exploited.” Why? Because heterosexual sex
dehumanizes women and makes it all but impossible for anyone, man or woman,
to look at women as whole beings. As Dworkin sums up this view, “Physically
the woman in intercourse is a space invaded, a literal territory occupied literally;
occupied even if there has been no resistance; even if the occupied person said,
‘Yes, please, yes, hurry, yes, more.'”

Dworkin reels from the claims made by her opponents that she equates all heterosexual
sex with rape, but in doing so she is merely playing semantic games. Her work
is infused with the view that women are harmed by heterosexual sex, that they
can’t really consent to such sex and that heterosexual sex should be (must be)
transcended to move beyond the war against women — after all this is the same
Dworkin who once wrote that “unambiguous conventional heterosexual behavior
is the worst betrayal or our common humanity.”

MacKinnon has made similar statements, likening women who dare to disagree
with her to “house niggers who side with masters.”

Strossen thoroughly documents this anti-sex presumption throughout Defending
, though her presentation lacks a systematic look at Dworkin
and MacKinnon’s philosophy, which is one of the biggest general problems with
her book — she tends toward quick, scattershot effects with fact after fact
and quote after quote often without much to unify her efforts. Defending
could have benefited from another rewrite or two.

But Strossen does se through the current anti-porn effort. As she sums it
up, “We are in the midst of a full-fledged ‘sex panic’ in which seemingly all
descriptions and depictions of human sexuality are becoming embattled.”

The anti-liberal basis of radical feminism

Although she never delves very deep into it, Strossen also lays out the
case that radical feminism is fundamentally anti-liberal. By liberalism here
I mean a basic respect for the dignity and autonomy of the individual. To MacKinnon
and Dworkin liberalism is anathema — it is sleeping with the enemy.

This explains why the anti-porn feminists arrive at what seems to Strossen
and other observers a bald contradiction. On the one hand, radical feminists
maintain that American institutions are extremely patriarchal. On the other
hand, MacKinnon and Dworkin would grant that patriarchal state even more power
to censor women. Can these two views be reconciled? Strossen doesn’t seem to
think so, but in fact her own analysis reveals these two ideas are perfectly

First, it must be kept in mind that Dworkin and MacKinnon both reject liberalism
as itself patriarchal. Women who disagree with them are nothing more than brainwashed
collaborators who are acting against their own best interests. As Strossen documents,
MacKinnon has no problem arguing the legal system should treat women in the
same way that it treats children. Strossen thinks this view “presuppose[s] an
infantilized woman incapable of knowing what is in her own best interests, and
needing the protection of the state…,” which is a pretty good summation.

In fact co-opting the state is the only way Dworkin and MacKinnon will ever
be able to get very far in their war on heterosexuality. As they both recognize
there are too many female collaborators who claim they enjoy being heterosexual
for heterosexuality to simply disappear by itself. To really get anywhere will
require harnessing the state (most radical feminists nominally oppose “power” as a patriarchal male concept except when it can be used to further their
own political goals.)

Sometimes Strossen seems to get it and other times she seems to ignore this
possibility. She wonders, for example, why pro-censorship feminists focus on
pornography when there are plenty of examples of extremely sexist speech that
is not pornographic. But of course this is how radicals always get their ideas
accepted by the greater society — first they conceptualize some extreme version
of what they seek to abolish. Once they get wide agreement on that, they gradually
expand their definition of the social ill as far as they possibly can. Strossen
is incorrect to think that MacKinnon and Dworkin exempt non-pornographic sexist
speech — they simply are smart enough to know that the most likely way to get
their views embedded in laws is through an attack on pornography. Once erotic
images that show women in a “subordinate” position (which is how the duo define
pornography) are banned, the effort to go after non-erotic images that “subordinate” women would be the logical next step.

Strossen devotes a chapter to the area where, to date, the pro-censorship
feminists have been most successful — sexual harassment law. MacKinnon pioneered
sexual harassment law, of course, so it’s not surprising that it has begun to
incorporate her particular view of heterosexuality and sexual expression. As
Strossen writes, sexual harassment now includes a “misguided emphasis on sexually
oriented expression [that] has diverted the attention of policy makers from
sexist conduct to sexual speech, and has shifted their focus from gender-based
discrimination to sexual expression.”

Many sexual harassment policies, especially those used in academic institutions,
are quite clear that as Strossen puts it, “the mere presence of sexual words
or pictures in the workplace or on campus is somehow inherently incompatible
with women’s’ full and equal participation in those areas.”

Strossen includes an excellent chapter surveying the lack of evidence for
the claim that pornography causes or contributes to violence against women.
Of course as she also points out, most of the procensorship feminists aren’t
really concerned with empirical niceties. MacKinnon, for example, has retreated
to the position that no one has proven that pornography doesn’t cause
harm and so one can assume it is dangerous until proven otherwise, which is
a standard that could be used to ban just about anything.

Defending Pornography is an excellent, comprehensive look at the many
facets of the debate over pornography. Anyone who wants to find out how radical
feminists are trying to undermine the principle of free speech and inquiry through
their attack on pornography will find Strossen’s book a great place to start.

NOW’s Abortion Lawsuit Threatens Freedom of Expression

The fundamental problem with American
politics is that it is largely unprincipled. Groups and lobbies often
seem more interested in getting their own outcome — regardless of the
methods they need to use.

This simple maxim was underscored
with last week’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling that Planned Parenthood
could sue Operation Rescue and other pro-life groups under the Racketeer-Influenced
and Corrupt Organization laws. Planned Parenthood’s “victory”
is nothing less than a stunning blow to the very freedom and choices that
the organization pretends to cherish so deeply.

RICO was passed in 1970 in an effort
to give prosecutors a bigger weapon against organized crime. Congress
wanted to make it easier to go after legitimate businesses that had been
infiltrated and controlled by organized crime outfits.

RICO never did make much of an
impact on organized crime, but prosecutors and other groups were more
than willing to use its provisions for political purposes. The Reagan
administration, for example, encouraged the use of the RICO statutes to
crack down on pornography.

In 1988, The Nation reported
the story of Dennis and Barbara Pryba who owned three adult bookstores.
In 1987 they were charged and found guilty of selling six obscene magazines
and four obscene videotapes. Under RICO, which only requires two criminal
acts to apply, this made the couple an organized crime racket and the
government seized over $1 million in property from the couple.

Reagan’s Attorney General Ed
Meese set up a special anti-obscenity task force whose sole purpose was
to use the RICO laws to drive adult bookstores out of business.

What Meese and Reagan never understood
was that restricting speech can cut both ways.

When a machinists’ union claimed
that Texas Air was violating airline safety rulings, Texas Air promptly
sued the union claming that such criticism constituted “a pattern
of racketeering activity.”

When John Spear, editor of a small
weekly newspaper in New York criticized the way police in West Hartford,
Conn., handled abortion protesters, West Hartford sued him under the RICO
statute, claiming his editorials were an attempt to intimidate West Hartford
police. They argued that Spear’s damaging criticisms constituted
an extortion attempt.

And now the Supreme Court has ruled
that RICO may be used against antiabortion groups.

The National Organization for Women
argued that Operation Rescue had engaged in a conspiracy of racketeering
to run abortion clinics out of business. Operation Rescue concedes it
want to see abortion clinics out of business, but argued that since its
motivation was political and not economic, RICO could not be used against
the organization. The Supreme Court ruled that the motivation of the group
is immaterial to whether or not RICO may be applied.

NOW’s case against Operation
Rescue will now go to trial. If it can convince a jury that blocking entrances
to abortion clinics constitutes a form of extortion, or if it can tie
a couple members of Operation Rescue to other criminal acts, such as bomb
threats, it can probably put Operation Rescue out of business.

This is a horrible application
of RICO and one that will be felt in other areas besides the conflict
over abortion.

“Under this decision, Martin
Luther King Jr. would have been a racketeer,” Randall Terry, founder
of Operation Rescue, told The New York Times. “What I’d
say to the AIDS activists, the anti-nuclear groups, the animal rights
people, is get your affairs in order and line up, because you’re

If abortion clinics can use the
RICO statutes against abortion protesters, what’s to stop corporations
from using it against animal rights protesters?

“Animal rights activists sometimes
use peaceful, non-violent protests … and we’re concerned that this
kind of decisions is going to chill that First Amendment activity,”
Todd Davis, a lawyer for People for the Treatment of Animals, told USA

In fact NOW might eventually find
itself on the other side of the RICO law.

Given the shaky grounds that Roe
v. Wade was construed on, and the clear desire by some Supreme Court justices
to overturn the decision, it’s not inconceivable that the Supreme
Court might turn the issue of abortion back to the states. Operation Rescue
then might find use for this law in going after pro-abortion groups and

By attacking Operation Rescue with
RICO, NOW has demonstrated that achieving its short-term political aims
is more important than preserving the First Amendment protection guaranteed
to all Americans.

Someday, NOW might regret that