Book Review: The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities

For the most part, I decline offers of free books for review these days, having little extra time for leisurely reading and, frankly, because most of the books are pretty awful. But when I saw that KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor’s new book came out, I reached out to KC for a copy. This was one book I wanted to read, The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities.

I chose wisely.

Before going forward, I note that I haven’t finished the book yet, but write this review because KC has taken to Volokh Conspiracy this week to write about his book, and I think it’s more important that anyone reading here be aware of the VC posts so that you can keep abreast of KC’s and Stuart’s work.

The subject of the book is quite familiar to me, having written a great many posts about it. And yet, I learned, and continue learning, from the rich details and timeframe provided by the meticulous research and crafting of how we ended up where we are today from a law, originally enacted in 1964, then extended to education by the enactment of Title IX in 1972, with the laudable purpose of eliminating sex discrimination in education.

The slide down the slippery slope was neither a smooth nor direct one. Indeed, a great deal of effort by feminists Catherine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin went into pushing and molding words and ideas to contort popular understanding of what Title IX meant. KC and Stuart lay out the efforts, the setbacks, the persistent pushes and the cracks in which the seeds of their ideas began to take hold.

In the process, they debunk much of the accepted “wisdom” today of what is presumed to be the law, such as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s decision in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, The Court held that one-on-one peer conduct implicated Title IX only if it was “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” This was swiftly undermined by advocates ignoring the conjunctive and the word “pervasive,” while redefining severe to include anything based upon the depth of hurt felt by its victims.

They then go on using real life examples of how this has metastasized on college campuses into a system designed for the purpose of achieving the political ends for which Mackinnon fought so hard. With a Department of Education’s facilitation of a policy wholly unsupported by law, but carefully crafted to play to the sensibilities of students and faculty, if not necessarily administrators, an empire was birthed for the purpose of assuring that the understanding of relative gender interactions would thereafter put women in control.

From KC’s post at Volokh:

Perhaps the past decade’s biggest change has come in the attitude of college students. During the Duke lacrosse case, most of the university’s students resisted a rush to judgment. Many called for a fair process once District Attorney Mike Nifong’s vast abuses of power became manifest, and organized to defeat Nifong in the fall election. In the past few years, however,student defenders of accused students’ civil liberties have been few and far between.

Indeed, some of the most aggressive advocates of stripping accused students of any meaningful protections have been students or student groups. The former op-ed editor of the Columbia student newspaper explained the atmosphere. “Campus media’s goal to promote discussion about sexual assault and to support survivors became conflated with a fear of rigorous reporting,” he noted in February 2015. “Personally, I felt that if I covered the existence of a different perspective — say, that due process should be respected — not only would I have been excoriated, but many would have said that I was harming survivors and the fight against sexual assault.”

Lest anyone forget, KC Johnson was the driving force of rationality during the Duke lacrosse fiasco, his blog, Durham-in-Wonderland, being the mother lode of substantive information about a skel District Attorney, Mike Nifong, and a cabal of “intellectuals” fully prepared to lynch white male students upon a false accusation. While hysteria abounded at Duke, KC kept his cool and provided lucid, accurate and honest information.

Beyond the excellent depth of information contained in The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universitiesit’s an exceptionally well-written book. Most efforts at dissecting a convoluted situation get bogged down in the details, making them at best difficult to read and at worst barely comprehensible.

But the writing here is remarkably clear and compelling. It’s got the sense of reading a novel, in that the anecdotes offered to show how the law changed, like the reduced standard of proof of preponderance of the evidence, draw you in and, like any well-told tale, keep you reading to see how it turned out. Even though I knew the stories, I still felt that draw to keep reading to discover the end result. It’s that compelling that you just want to keep reading, to know what happened. This is plain, old great writing.

This isn’t the first effort to unpack the devolution of Title IX into a morass of emotional politics at the expense of college males. Other well-intended efforts sought to explain its problems, or at least pieces of them, with limited success. This book does the job where others have fallen short.

Come for its meticulous research, accurate details, excellent recounting of the sequence of events that explain how the slide down the slippery slope occurred, and stay for a truly well-written book.

The situation isn’t over yet. Even if the new administration, as predicted, rescinds the “Dear Colleague” letters issued by the Department of Education, the attitude has already suffered a paradigm shift, the acceptance of a subconstitutional shadow legal system is firmly entrenched and schools may well persist in their current mode of burning males at the stake of MacKinnon’s sexual politics, failing to see why this should be a problem.

So there may well be more to the story coming. But if you want to know how we got to where we are now, KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor lay it out for you. This is a book you need to read.