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Is lawmaker off base in calling for Georgia Tech president to go over campus sexual misconduct policies?

Update Wednesday:  Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson have mended fences, according to today's

AJC higher ed reporter Janel Davis reports: 

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart said he and Tech president Bud Peterson had a very “cordial and productive” conversation this week about Ehrhart’s criticisms of the institution and new due-process policies being implemented for all schools in the state’s University System, including Georgia Tech.

Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, had criticized Tech for its policies, which he claimed did not provide students accused of wrongdoing with fair treatment in investigating, hearing and appealing their cases.

Last week, the Marietta Daily Journal reported that Ehrhart, who chairs the state House committee responsible for allocating funds to the state’s colleges and universities, said Peterson should resign over the unfair practices. (Ehrhart denied he asked for Peterson’s ouster, instead saying “if things didn’t change” the school would need someone like Purdue University president Mitch Daniels to replace him.)

But two recent actions by Peterson “demonstrated that he is the man I knew he was,” Ehrhart said. According to the state lawmaker, Peterson reached out to the mother of a 19-year-old student accused of sexual misconduct who said school officials prevented her from being in the room with her son during a hearing. Peterson also wrote a letter to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, Ehrhart said, apologizing for unfairly punishing the students.

Here is the original blog: 

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, is calling for the ouster of Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson over how the campus responds to sexual misconduct allegations.

As Ehrhart told the AJC, "I cannot in good conscience continue to fund Georgia Tech at the level that it requests without some assurance to parents that there will be due process for their children."

Is this any way to run Georgia's higher education system? While protecting a few Tech students he believes were denied due process, is Ehrhart short-changing the education of thousands of others?

First some history via AJC stories:

With campus rape grabbing national headlines, Tech has expelled or suspended nearly every student it has investigated for sexual misconduct in the past five years, records show. And at Tech, officials finding a student responsible for non-consensual sexual intercourse must either expel the student or explain why they did not.

The school has also cracked down on fraternities, handing out a stiff sentence for a house where members were accused of hurling racial slurs at a black female student. But in its zeal to punish wrongdoers, there are signs Tech has pushed too far.

This month, the school was ordered to reinstate a male student it expelled last year after finding him responsible for non-consensual sexual intercourse, commonly known as rape. It's the only time in the past five years the state Board of Regents has overturned any public college on a sexual assault case, records reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show. The case is one of two lawsuits pending against Tech President Bud Peterson, other school administrators and the regents by students arguing they were forced out of Tech unfairly after being accused of sexual assault.

Now Ehrhart is targeting the Tech president. He wants Bud Peterson out, telling the Marietta Daily Journal:

He’s up for his contract renewal come April. The Regents, I think they’re frustrated with him. The alumni, I think they’re massively frustrated with him. He’s costing them (the school’s reputation), he’s costing their sons and daughters a safe environment on that campus, and they’re fed up with it, I think. We need somebody like a Mitch Daniels at Purdue to come in and have the guts to stand up to these activists in their cabinets, sweep them out of there and do the right thing, and they just won’t do that at Tech.

A few weeks ago, a former state Supreme Court judge reviewed  a high profile case involving a fraternity at Georgia Tech's request. An African-American woman had filed a complaint against Phi Delta Theta, contending members of the fraternity shouted racial slurs at her from the windows of their campus house last year.

The fraternity denied the allegation, but Tech disciplined the frat, letting it remain on campus and recruit but banning it from Greek Week, homecoming and campus social events

According to the AJC:

In a review of the fraternity case process, findings and sanctions, former chief judge of the Georgia Supreme Court Leah Ward Sears found the fraternity's sanctions were out of line with the university's policies. Tech had requested Sears' review.

Georgia Tech's policies don't allow for whole organizations to be punished unless the group's leaders are found to be complicit in the actions. A student judicial panel did not find Phi Delta's leaders to be complicit in the August incident.

Although the sanctions were lifted, Sears' review found that a student judicial panel had enough evidence to find that the racial incident did occur, and that the fraternity received adequate due process in the investigation and appeals process.

"It is important to recognize that race-based discriminatory acts or practices have no place at Georgia Tech where students should be able to learn and engage in activities without the disquietude of prejudice and intolerance, " Sears said in a letter to Georgia Tech president Bud Peterson. "It is also crucial to call attention to the importance of fraternities policing the behavior of its members."

One of the debate points in the Legislature has been whether Tech should investigate sexual misconduct cases. The AJC reported:

"Would it not make more sense, in cases of certain behaviors that touch criminal conduct ... that the University System not, and purposefully not involve itself in (investigating those cases) and get professional law enforcement to investigate?" asked Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna. "I would think this would be a relief to many administrators."

Peterson said he did not disagree but said the matter was complex. The university disciplinary process has a lower burden of proof than criminal prosecution requires, which gives the university more leeway to take action.

But there are legal experts who believe in Title IX's provisions against sexual discrimination and violence and its requirement that universities act on any charges of sex discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual violence on campus. In a letter to the AJC, attorney Carol Napier wrote:

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, is concerned about "due process" for students accused of sexual assault. As a lawyer, I am pretty certain Georgia Tech gives students all the process the Constitution requires. Ehrhart's solution to his imagined due process problem: mandate police reporting of all campus sexual assaults, regardless of what the victim wants, and strip universities of authority to regulate the conduct of their students. (Title IX requires universities to investigate all complaints of sexual violence even if police are also investigating.) Ehrhart argues we have mandated reporting for child abuse, and therefore, we should have mandated reporting for campus sexual assault. Ehrhart is saying that women are essentially children and cannot be trusted to decide whether to call the police. Thankfully, Ehrhart will not win his war on university women. Why not? Because Tech women are much stronger and smarter than he, and Title IX has their backs.






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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.