As a callow youth Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence completed an arts degree, an unlikely start to his long, illustrious career. Sadly, he failed to absorb even the most basic lessons of history from his early studies—lessons that might have stood him in good stead, given the risky direction he is now taking his institution.
Late last year Sydney University introduced regulations to adjudicate rape cases on campus, using a “balance of probabilities” standard, which fails to offer normal legal protections to the accused. Spence and his colleagues are taking this step to kowtow to a small group of feminist activists keen to see higher rates of conviction in date-rape cases. Juries are notoriously reluctant to send young men to prison in he-said-she-said cases when they don’t know whom to believe. The feminist reaction to this irritating state of affairs has been to bully universities into taking over adjudication of such cases involving students.
This essay appears in April’s Quadrant, now on sale.
Click here to subscribe
Sounds farcical? Well, that’s exactly what happened in the United States, where the Obama administration required all publicly-funded universities to set up tribunals for determining sexual assault cases. That followed years of feminist campaigning claiming a rape crisis on American university campuses dating back to 1990s demonstrations featuring furious young women brandishing placards claiming one in four students are raped. A so-called documentary called The Hunting Ground was shown across the country claiming serial rapists were preying on female college students—a film denounced by nineteen Harvard law professors for misrepresenting key issues in a legal case where a student was ultimately cleared of sexual assault charges by a grand jury. False statistics used in the film have been totally discredited.
The claims being made about the rape crisis are ludicrous. Heather Mac Donald, in her excellent new book The Diversity Delusion, points out that if campus rape figures were anything like those suggested by activists there’s no way we’d see the current stampede of girls trying to get into American colleges. “Highly educated mothers in New York City pay $200 an hour to prep their female tots for nursery school admissions tests, all in the hope of winning a spot for their little darlings in the Ivy League thirteen years later. Yet we are to believe these ambitious mothers are deliberately packing off their daughters to a hellhole of sexual predation,” writes Mac Donald.
Yet the campus rape frenzy steamed along, establishing a system of kangaroo courts where the accused had no help from lawyers, was often not given full access to allegations and was denied other legal rights available under criminal law. It led to a steady stream of young men (and occasionally women) being suspended from college, their lives derailed by this “victim-centred justice”.
The most notorious case is probably the Columbia mattress girl. In 2015 Emma Sulkovitz became a global celebrity by turning a false rape allegation into performance art by spending years carrying her mattress around campus. She was protesting Columbia’s decision not to take action against a young German student, Paul Nungesser, whom she’d accused of choking and anally raping her.
The university had investigated the case and found him not guilty. There’s a Facebook message from Sulkovitz to Nungesser two days after the alleged rape asking to join in a party in his room. A month later she sought more contact: “I want to see you.” The following month she messaged: “I love you Paul. Where are you?”
Columbia decided the evidence suggested the young man wasn’t guilty yet allowed Sulkovitz for three years to carry her mattress, holding campus protests where people openly called Nungesser a rapist. She was even given academic credit for the performance as part of her visual arts major and permitted to carry the mattress in her graduation ceremony. Eventually Nungesser won his case against Columbia and the university paid him a large confidential settlement for failing to protect him from defamation and harassment.
Massive legal payouts are adding to the escalating costs of administering this quasi-judicial system. Last year, a Court of Appeals case ruled Boston College should pay over $3 million in compensatory damages after the university had failed to provide a “fair disciplinary process” for a student accused of sexual assault by another student. According to an excellent organisation called SAVE (Stop Abusive and Violent Environments) which is tracking the damage being caused by this system, this was the 100th judicial decision in favour of students who sued their colleges in such cases—with the resulting publicity being extremely damaging for the universities.
Now the Trump administration has moved to ensure due process rights in colleges, a move greeted favourably around the country. New York Times columnist Michael Powell described the current college tribunal system as a “broken process” that “flipped fundamental concepts of fairness”. The Chicago Tribune ran a pithy editorial summing up why rape should be left to the criminal law system: “Campus rape? Call the police.”
The evidence is now clear that the Obama administration put the universities into an impossible position, which John McCardell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, described as having “imposed on entities ill-trained or equipped for the task, a quasi-judicial role, with the implication that ‘justice’, however defined, can be satisfactorily rendered through processes that cannot possibly replicate a genuine legal proceeding”.
It’s not just in the United States that proper adjudication of rape cases has broken down. Last year a series of UK rape cases collapsed following revelations of deliberate withholding of key evidence by prosecutors and police, part of the same “victim-centred justice”. In the ensuing scandal, the Director of Public Prosecutions stepped down and it was decided that key rape and serious sexual assault cases should be reviewed. The Metropolitan Police announced that they were ditching their practice of “believing all victims”.
But when it comes to the higher education sector in Australia, no government is requiring our universities to take on this quasi-judicial role. Rather, certain universities, including Sydney, are choosing to embrace this risky business. What is astonishing is that they are doing so in the face of solid evidence that the campus rape crisis simply doesn’t exist.
In August 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission released the results of a million-dollar survey into sexual assault and harassment on university campuses, following years of lobbying by activists. Designed to provide proof of the rape crisis, it proved to be a total fizzer. Only 0.8 per cent per year of the 30,000 surveyed reported any sexual assault, even using the broadest possible definition including “tricked into sex against your will” and sexual contact with a stranger on the bus or train trip to university. In response, the activists immediately shifted ground, issuing alarmist warnings about high levels of “sexual violence”, which was mainly unwanted staring and low-grade harassment, including sexual jokes or comments.
The results were in, but I was the only journalist writing in the mainstream media that day to celebrate our safe campuses. My news story published in the Australian included data from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics showing campuses are about 100 times safer than the rest of the community for young women. The ultimate irony was that the day the AHRC data was released we had demonstrations at Parliament House, with protestors carrying mattresses honouring the mattress girl, less than a week after Columbia University lost the case involving her.
Despite the solid evidence refuting the rape crisis scare-mongering, across the country Australian vice-chancellors continued to appease feminist activists with endless displays of virtue-signalling, promising to tackle the sexual violence with twenty-four-hour help lines, sexual assault and harassment units, and sexual consent courses. I wrote to all our major universities posing a series of questions about why our universities are choosing to lie about the safety of our campuses, risking scaring off Asian families from sending their daughters to study in this country. The result was endless weasel words from university media units—not one acknowledged that the whole thing is a farce.
So, this sixty-nine-year-old grandmother is mounting her own protest. For much of the past year I have been touring Australian university campuses speaking to students about the implications of this move by our universities—despite strenuous efforts from protesters trying to silence me. La Trobe University initially banned my talk, claiming it clashed with the values of the university—although they finally gave in after media pressure. In September last year the riot squad was called in by Sydney University security after they were unable to remove unruly protesters who blocked my audience from reaching the venue. It’s five months since I made a formal complaint about the university’s failure to enforce codes of conduct in relation to key organisers of the protest.
A cursory look through Australian university websites has revealed four with regulations in place for adjudicating rape using a “balance of probabilities”—apart from Sydney there’s Tasmania and Adelaide, while UWA’s regulations don’t spell out how they make decisions in these cases.
Last year I spent eight months helping a PhD student at Adelaide University ward off a university committee investigating a sexual assault allegation from another student. I found a criminal barrister to give him pro bono advice, and eventually the university dropped the charges, but only after a long battle. Given that this university committee had the power to withhold the young man’s PhD, it was an extremely stressful ordeal for the young man, as documented in the YouTube video I made with him.
I’ve also just released another video interview with a male student who was thrown out of his college at UWA following a rape accusation by his former girlfriend. It’s shocking how badly the male student was treated in this classic “believe-the-victim” investigation. His side of the story was never properly heard—he was given no support and no legal advice and was so frightened he took six months to even tell his parents what was going on. I’m following up a steady stream of such cases including one where a university withheld a male student’s degree for over a year, despite no proper investigation of the rape allegation by a fellow student. At UTS in Sydney, the committee investigating sexual assault includes students amongst its members.
Universities across the country are joining the witch-hunt, with young men being subject to biased, unfair investigations. Making matters worse are online sexual consent courses being run by most of our universities which teach young women that they cannot give sexual consent if they have been drinking—so if two drunken young people hook up together, he’s guilty of rape—and that even if girls give consent they have a right to change their minds afterwards. So, if she thought their sexual liaison was the start of something wonderful but he wasn’t on board her romantic illusion, she’s now being encouraged to regard that “regret sex” as rape. At many Australian universities such sexual consent courses are now compulsory—UTS last year withheld exam results from students who failed to complete the courses.
It’s alarming that this is all happening with so little public scrutiny, but it speaks to the grip of feminism on our key institutions, including mainstream media, that anyone challenging the new orthodoxy is silenced. Last year the National Union of Students passed a resolution to prevent me speaking on campuses and offered to fund protests against me—great use of compulsory student union fees, isn’t it? This action has succeeded in intimidating some of the student groups from hosting my campus speaking events. Last month I hosted my own talk at UWA, paying the $350 security fee imposed by the university using the crowd-funder which is supporting my tour. Amusingly, the university announced they were offering counselling to students or staff upset by the fact I was questioning the rape crisis on campus.
The Chancellor of UWA is former High Court Justice Robert French, whose inquiry into free speech on university campuses has just been released—an inquiry prompted by the violent protest against me at Sydney University. It’s a pity French has concluded all that is needed is a voluntary code of practice for universities. Sydney University seems to see no problem in unruly, violent students preventing my audience from accessing the venue for my talk last September. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence has publicly dismissed as a “circus” the fuss made about the riot squad being needed to remove those students.
There’s been no outcome from my formal complaint against the key protest organisers who breached the university’s code of conduct by bullying and harassing other students at the event, as well as harassing members of the public, including myself. Not only has there been no action taken in response to that complaint but the university also failed to act over another complaint against one of the protest organisers, Madeline Ward, after the university’s own investigation body recommended she be given a one-semester suspension for misconduct after she flashed her breasts at an anti-abortion group last year.
I’m taking further action. In February I arranged for almost 2000 flyers to be distributed on the Sydney University campus, mainly to college students, warning of the university’s decision to become involved in adjudicating rape cases. (I’d be delighted to send a copy to anyone who’d like to see the flyer.) I’ve also sent a detailed letter to all members of the Sydney University Senate, providing them with evidence regarding the costly, damaging likely consequences of this move.
We are pulling together a group of influential people connected to the university who can plan further action. So, this is an appeal to all alumni, or parents of young men attending the university or likely to do so in the future: please contact me and come on board. It’s not good enough to just sit back tut-tutting, lamenting what’s happening to our universities. The universities are making this move in response to pressure from a tiny group of activists whilst the silent majority just sit back and let it happen.
This is on our watch. Our universities are becoming increasingly unfriendly places for young men—it’s hardly surprising that 60 per cent of graduates are now women. But we owe it to current and future generations of male students not to allow our higher education sector to sell out their rights. Where are the social scientists willing to expose the non-existent evidence for the rape crisis? And there must be some academic lawyers who can spell out the legal implications of this move by our universities.
As the daughter of an eminent academic, the economist H.W. Arndt, I know Heinz would be turning in his grave at our lily-livered universities. He was never one to be easily silenced.
Bettina Arndt’s website is www.bettinaarndt.com.au, where contact details can be found.