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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Occidental College President Jonathan Veitch's Culture of Campus Rape

     In February 2012, Occidental College professors Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks publicly accused President Jonathan Veitch and his administration of discouraging campus rape victims from reporting the assaults to the police. The professors and students who supported their cause asserted that Veitch and his people not only suppressed crime reporting on the Los Angeles campus, they handed down weak sanctions against the students responsible for rapes and other sexual offenses. The activist professors and those who backed them also accused college administrators of retaliating against professors and students who publicly criticized the school's handling of sex crimes. According to the complainants, this malfeasance had been going on since 2009.

     As part of their effort to reform Occidental's campus sex crime policy, Professors Heldman and Dirks helped concerned students file federal complaints against the school that accused the administration of civil rights violations as well as violations of the Clery Act.

     Because colleges and university administrations across the country have a long history of under-reporting campus crime, congress passed the Clery Act. Under this law, colleges and universities that receive federal money are required to maintain and fully disclose campus and near-campus crime statistics. Institutions that do not comply with the Clery Act can be fined up to $35,000 per violation.

     College and university administrators hate the Clery Act and do whatever they can to get around it. Since crime is bad for business, it's still grossly under-reported on most campuses. Given the high cost of higher education and the fierce competition for students, a campus that is not perceived as an oasis of safety and luxury will lose out in the market place. Colleges and universities no longer sell education, they sell lifestyle.

     Following the filing of the federal complaints, President Veitch agreed to tighten the school's policy regarding the handling of campus rape. But in the summer of 2013, a student who said she had been raped on campus in February of that year, complained on television that the college had not honored its agreement to report these crimes and take aggressive action against perpetrators.

     Infuriated by this public accusation, President Veitch accused the complaining student and Professor Dirks of maliciously embarrassing him and the college on the evening news. The president's thin-skinned response drew public criticism. As a result, he was forced to apologize for taking out his anger on the wrong people. (College and University presidents, the kings and queens of academia, have huge egos and suffer from degrees of self-love that is borderline pathological. They therefore have no tolerance for people who criticize them.)

     On September 19, 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported that Occidental College had reached a confidential monetary settlement with at least ten students who had been raped on campus. In all of these cases, the college had either squelched or downplayed the crimes.

     On the day following the Times article, President Veitch, in an attempt to garner faculty support for his reappointment as president (his 5-year contract was up for renewal), gave a 20-minute, emotional speech at an all-faculty meeting. Now that the scandal was supposedly behind them, the president called for intra-campus civility. (In academia, "civility" is a codeword for speech suppression. There is more free speech in Russian than on an American college campus.)

     In his faculty address, rather than focus on how his administration had let down crime victims and misled the public, President Veitch talked about himself. He said he had been "shell-shocked" by the accusations, and that the "controversy" had taken a toll "on my health and my soul." (Outside of academia, who talks like that?) While the president admitted that mistakes had been made, he assured faculty members that Occidental College now had some of the strongest sexual assault policies in the country. (That might be true, but no thanks to him.)

     Occidental College is currently under federal investigation.

     In my opinion, President Veitch, when his 5-year contract runs out, should be shown the door. And he should be sent packing without one of those typically over-generaous severance packages. No golden parachute for this man. If he is one-tenth as great as I'm sure he thinks he is, getting a new job should be no problem. 

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