Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A new type of punishment?

Reporters frequently ask us what the punishment is for failure to comply with Title IX regulations. And we always say something to the effect of "loss of federal funding...but that's never happened."
I continue to believe that one of the informal punishments, or at the very least, negative consequence, is the bad publicity that comes from accusations and findings of violations. In the situation many schools are facing with the visibility of complaints based on the handling of sexual assault cases, this "punishment" is fairly light, especially for victims of the crimes and their mishandling.
But the effect of public opinion may be having a larger impact than many schools would like. And an activist group called Ultra Violet is attempting to sway public opinion--specifically the opinion of applicants--by taking out ads aimed at informing students about the problems with sexual assault on various campuses. They have thus far targeted Dartmouth, Occidental, Berkeley, University of Michigan, Brandeis, American University, FSU, and Harvard.

There doesn't seem to be a rationale for why they have picked these particular schools
The group is claiming responsibility for the 14% drop in applicants to Dartmouth this year. I think that it would be difficult to prove a direct cause and effect there. It's not as if Dartmouth doesn't already have a reputation. Long before the recent revelations and investigations, there was publicity about the Dartmouth fraternities and their effect on campus culture. (Also, other schools are seeing double digit drops in applications as well. Inside Higher Ed  reported a similar drop at Quinnipiac which is being attributed to the economy.)
Regardless, the campaign by Ultra Violet is drawing attention, though some schools don't need any help.

The president of Occidental College, which is still under investigation and has already agreed to a settlement for Clery Act violations, has noted the potential damage to the college's reputation. Ironically, the administration's focus on a positive marketing message has caused greater negative publicity with charges that administrators have not done enough to actually remedy the problems on campus. The attention to image and legal defenses has drawn continued protests by students and alums. Donations are down and trustees are not too happy with all the negative press. At a trustee event a few weeks ago, trustees got into it with student, faculty, and alumni protesters who stood outside the event with signs expressing solidarity with victims. One trustee demanded names of rapists from the protesters and questioned their integrity when they told him to go ask administrators.

The tactics of Ultra Violet have been called "aggressive," a problematic description when it comes to female activism. I haven't seen anyone call Occidental's campaign to improve their image by hiring outside PR consulting firms (and refusing to report the costs) or confiscating the computers, phones, and records of professors as aggressive. And it's not as if the passive responses to campus sexual assault that so many schools now stand accused of has been successful.