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Opinion: Fighting the smears against Title IX reformers

  
Dogan

The campus due process debate is complex and well-intentioned people can have different views on it. But a few facts are indisputable: the current on-campus investigatory regime needs to be improved; it is disproportionately harmful to African American males; and, the personal attacks undertaken by opponents of reform against David Steward have been deeply unfair.

Anyone who knows me knows that I call it like I see it. As the only African-American Republican in the Missouri legislature, I believe I bring a unique perspective to the Capitol, particularly relating to civil justice and civil rights. As Chair of the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, I’ve fought hard for criminal justice reform, police reform, and numerous other contentious issues, sometimes in agreement with my fellow Republicans and, at times, having sharp disagreements with them.

As a civil libertarian I’m very concerned about the state of due process on Missouri college campuses. The Constitutional status quo was fundamentally altered several years ago when the Obama Administration issued “guidance” to public and private colleges and universities across America. While well-intended, this guidance (done without new legislation and with the implicit threat of a revocation of funding) took away several mainstays of our college students’ due process rights. Among them: the right to counsel, the right to hear the evidence entered against them in a proceeding; the right to a fair appeals process; and several others. While no one including me wants to prevent young women and men from obtaining a good education because of sexual harassment or discrimination on campus, denying some students their constitutional rights is not the way to achieve justice for others. As Emily Yoffe documented in a well-reported series for The Atlantic, Title IX proceedings on campus have become confusing and unfair for both the accusers and the accused and are in need of reform.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee our due process rights in part because vulnerable minorities are among the first to be abused by their usurpation. It’s no surprise to me, then, that African American males on our campuses are among the greatest victims of curtailed due process. While Missouri’s universities have refused to furnish the Legislature with data regarding the racial makeup of their campus investigations and punishments, there is evidence from across the country that the current procedures are disproportionately harmful to African American males. Numerous reports and studies have demonstrated the disproportionate and negative impact of this process on minority students. In fact, a recent investigative series by showed that while less than 5% of students at Colgate University are black, more than 50% of administrative actions taken were against black students.

Reasonable people can disagree about the case I’ve laid out and about the legislation being considered in Jefferson City, but none of that excuses the treatment David Steward and others have received at the hands of the opponents of reform. David has been maligned, lied about, and his motivations have been questioned by those who seek to ruin his name and reputation. (Full disclosure, I have known David Steward for over 20 years: he has supported my campaigns and I consider him a friend and a mentor.) To hear the whisper campaigns against him and proponents of reform has been truly infuriating. Those kind of underhanded tactics and personal attacks have no place in our Capitol and should play no role in honest public policy debates.

The caricature portrayed by these haters is at odds with the lifetime of service, generosity and leadership David Steward has given to St. Louis and the state of Missouri. I won’t list here all of David’s philanthropic work (he’s served or is serving on more than two dozen corporate and volunteer Boards of Directors) but suffice to say he is one of our region’s and state’s most generous citizens and we’re very lucky to call him one of ours. Serving on Mizzou’s Board of Curators and Washington University’s Board of Board of Trustees has given David unique insights into the state of investigations on our college campuses. As African American male he is, like me, deeply concerned with ridding the current system of any intentional or unintentional racial bias. Also like me, he has a son AND a daughter and wants to make sure that the process is fair for both the accuser and the accused.

The due process rights of Missouri’s college students have been degraded and our process cries out for reform. This requires an honest, honorable debate on the merits, not targeting of honorable private citizens. For the sake of all of our students, I hope they get it.