Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Who You Tryin' to Get Crazy with, Ese? Don't You Know I'm in Loco Parentis?

Rape is a crime.

The point of a criminal justice system is straight out of Adam Smith: specialization and exchange. Police and prosecutors are trained to detect crime and punish perpetrators.

Contrarily, university administration are trained in the fine art of scheduling classes, coordinating stubborn, egotistical faculty, contracting new construction, and assigning resident students to rooms. Nothing in that job description includes attempts at ersatz Sherlock Holmesing.

So while I share many of J. F. Sargent's concerns about how rape is measured and handled on campus, I'd rather ask whether or not the doctrine of in loco parentis is appropriate on college campuses. Is it consistent with common-sense jurisprudence to treat college students as children, as adults, or as something hazily in between?

In other words, what are the implied contractual terms of university attendance? Are these terms different for residential students?

In my stodgy fantasies, I imagine dorms as [crappy] apartments, where residents pay rent and utilities and have to abide by the terms of their lease or face eviction. Likewise, since dorm residents are also ordinary residents of the United States, they have to obey the laws of the Republic or face the same exact punishments as any other citizen. It is not for want of trying that I have difficulty imagining why a university campus should be a special jurisdictional zone.

Rape is a crime. Treat it like one.

But that's my own odd, idiosyncratic fantasies. None of my gauzy dreaming has any meaningful influence over what folks actually believe. If parents demand of university administrators that they act as interim guardians on the way to adult liberty, then I can hardly fault universities for paying heed—they know on which side of the bread rests the butter. So the puzzle then becomes one of institutional design. Sargent is absolutely correct in point #5: reporting campus rape is incentive-incompatible. What sort of durable institutional reforms might remedy this?

Some possibilities:
  1. End tuition subsidies. If the marginal student also happens to be the marginal rapist, perhaps he shouldn't be going to college in the first place.
  2. Same-sex only schools. Reduce the stigma against exclusively male (or female) colleges. Give students more options to sort according to their particular social preferences and aversions.
  3. Eliminate campus residence. Treat students the same as any other adult, let them rent apartments in the surrounding community. Let their taxes they pay support public order just like any other ordinary adult.
  4. Eliminate special police jurisdiction. The city police or the country sheriff shall have ordinary jurisdiction on campus, treating it just the same as any other neighborhood in town.
I'm sure that like me, you're either chuckling or shaking your head as you read these. None of these are practical options, mostly for political reasons. The unfortunate truth is that it'll probably boil down to an ugly slugfest between courageous student activists and trenchant administration. It'll take more Cracked articles to pry open the lid to this filthy crate.

And it'll probably take some court challenges too. I'd be inclined to advise college-aged women to skip the campus proceedings and go straight to the city police. If they cite jurisdiction, raise more of a stink with the media. The more that campus rapes get swept under the carpet, the greater the probability that more will occur. This is a standard result from game theory. Make a clamor—change minds, one thick skull at a time if need be. Pierce the self-indulgent illusion of college as some noble waystation on the Road to Adulthood. Expose the lies.

Yet for all that, it's somehow unsatisfying, unsettling even, to say "more talk" here. Unfortunately, this situation does not appear to lend itself well to an off-the-cuff engineered solution. At least not one that immediately occurs to me. The tacit terms of the university contract are not, it appears, particularly euvoluntary on closer inspection. Changing them will be met with opposition. Gird yourself accordingly.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?