Everybody despises Harvey Weinstein. Usually, by this time in the public pursuit of a villain, he begins to attract a little undeserved sympathy. Not this time. The accusers keep on coming, with the passion of Emile Zola when he famously wrote, "J' accuse!" and accused the French government of hounding French army captain Alfred Dreyfus only because he was a Jew.
But the accusers of Weinstein, who dubbed him the aggressive male brute with no redeeming social value, now threaten to turn their fury against men — all men, the innocent (and there are some) and the guilty.
It took decades for the Hollywood mogul to be publicly flayed by the angry women he had done wrong, and lots of other angry women are unfairly rising against innocent men. Bearing false witness is a crime, too.
Crying rape is, by definition, one-sided, and the female is entitled to special consideration if she is the victim of a terrible crime, but the need to be careful is finally gaining attention on campuses. A number of men have been convicted of rape or assault merely on accusation. In one notorious example at Columbia University, a young woman carrying a mattress on her back made the cover of Time magazine. It was her unusual accusation that a male classmate had raped her.
When her charge failed to pass the test of an investigation by university authorities, she turned her accusation and her mattress into public "performance art" for a senior art thesis, subjecting the innocent young man to ridicule and humiliation and shunning by self-righteous zealots.
Students at one of the elite American universities, where the Great Books are part of the core curriculum, are typically outraged by the injustice meted to Socrates for corrupting the youth of ancient Athens, but few recognized the outrage in their midst. Only after the accused Columbia student sued the university did it admit, with less-than-admirable understatement, that the young man's senior year on campus was "not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience."
Similar experiences have been the ordeals for many young men accused of sexual harassment and assault under Title IX as it was enforced under former President Obama's administration. Title IX requires schools that receive federal funds to not discriminate on the basis of sex. The law doesn't actually mention sexual assault, but colleges and universities were encouraged by the administration to use it to support female accusers of sexual assault, playing loosely with fairness and due process.
After extensive meetings with advocacy groups on every side of the issue, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a powerful and well-reasoned speech that it would no longer be bad business as usual. There would be neither slighting of the rights of the accused nor the accusers. She announced "a transparent notice-and-comment process" where the U.S. Department of Education would take comments from the public on "insights from all parties."
The tough-minded DeVos is not the most beloved cabinet chief in the Trump administration, but her approach was cheered in some surprising intellectual centers of the left. Candor and fair-mindedness survives after all.
On DeVos, Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen writes in The New Yorker, "If these statements were made by a different official in a different Administration, they would seem rational, uncontroversial, and even banal." Like the secretary, the professor is aware of how Title IX has been carelessly and dangerously employed to deprive the accused of their rights — no right of counsel, no opportunity to examine witnesses, not even a whiff of fundamental fairness — as rigorously upheld in legal proceedings off campus. This has created a new class of victims, most of them men.
This week, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have codified the Obama campus guidelines for sexual assault. He echoed the concerns of DeVos by noting college failures "to uphold due process for accused students."
In one bizarre case at a university in California, a couple was playfully roughhousing, as the young woman described it, and her boyfriend was kicked off the football team and barred from the university because a witness saw him as abusive and investigators saw her as a "battered woman."
Some schools with a bias on behalf of women and ambiguous legal requirements show little enthusiasm for the rights of the accused and keep details of the complaint, the identity of witnesses and the results of the investigation from the accused. The only recourse to justice is often a lawsuit against the university, which revives the trauma for those the academy insists it was trying to protect.
"We must continue to condemn the scourge of sexual misconduct on our campuses," says DeVos. "We can do a better job of making sure the handling of complaints is fair and accurate." To reprise and revise a current slogan from the street, "Young men's lives matter, too."