Consumer Protection in Education

By L. Holmes. L. Holmes is a software engineer from Bethlehem, USA. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Some careers like law and engineering require precise information and analytical skills that take many years of academic preparation to learn. Other careers, like teaching, administration, and the arts require a balance of practical knowledge and broadminded awareness of the history and breadth of this world that we inhabit.

Rather than focus on in-class academic study, I wish to digress for a moment to examine the role of administrators in the academic learning process. For example, let us select Haverford College, a Quaker liberal arts college just north of Philadelphia. Conveniently, for this arbitrary narrative strategy, Haverford is one hour from Lehigh University, alma mater of Jeanne Clery. Clery is the man after whom the United States Congress named the Clery Act, a 1990 piece of legislation (recently updated in 2012) that requires universities and colleges, which receive federal student aid, to keep an annual record of serious and violent crimes perpetrated on campus. Evidently women were getting raped, beaten, harassed, and even murdered, and colleges were neglecting to mention this to prospective parents. Imagine that.

The 2012 update further clarifies what constitutes a crime to which mandatory reporting attaches, and adds a Whistle Blower Clause, preventing retaliation against persons reporting crimes. Evidently, as late as the early 21st century, in a country that proudly bombed Afghanistan in defense of women’s safety and educational rights, this additional caveat was also necessary. Huh.

Side-note: Most of the administrators at Haverford College are not lifelong Quakers, and if attitudes and conduct are a measure, nor are they Christian. This author was baptized Methodist and educated Methodist and Moravian and as a fledgling human rights advocate secretly aspired in youth to be outspoken like the Quakers in defense of social justice. Some kids dug James Dean. For me, it was The Friends Service Committee.

Returning to our narrative, the question is, should administrators play street hockey with reference to morals; pushing and shoving when the ref looks away? Or should they set an example for moral conduct in the complex to modern world? Be practical or idealistic?

First, what constitutes pragmatism and what remains for idealism? It comes down to perspective. People who want a campus climate free from fear would think that reporting crimes publicly is pragmatic. People who want personal ease, comfort of mind and popularity with consumers might want to risk the low odds of being victimized more than once and see a veil of silence as pragmatic.

Let us look at what Haverford did in one instance (or perhaps many). In 2007, a former college housemate of Michael Booth, (Ames Ct. Laramie, WY) reported him for sexual harassment to his employer, the Haverford College English Dept. Instead of Michael Booth or the Haverford administration contacting the allegator to ascertain details, issue a Cease and Desist order, or subpoena testimony for a libel lawsuit, Michael Booth (now Cambridge, MA) had his former vegetarian co-op housemate arrested and extradited back from New Haven to stand trial in Haverford for reporting him for harassment.

In the Affidavit of Probable Cause, Michael Booth neglected to mention that he had lived rent-free with the allegator for an entire academic year in the co-op which she had founded. In the Affidavit, Michael Booth referred to her as merely being in the same “small circle of friends”. Get the quote! It’s lifted from a Phil Ochs song about the public’s indifference to the rape and beating of Kitty Genovese. Right?

The allegator, a vegan Bhakti yoga practitioner, was now in jail being force-fed a diet of meat and refined carbs along with drug addicts and prostitutes. She wrote to the then president of Haverford, Stephen Emerson, informing him of her innocence and her seventeen-year relationship with Booth but he did not respond. Charges were not dropped against allegator. Lawyers from Haverford attended the arraignment. Booth’s employment was not terminated. Booth and the Haverford contingency ignored the deputy sheriff’s plea for lenience due to a lack of medical treatment available in jail for severe hemorrhaging.

Haverford Administrators and attorneys thought the accusations of sexual harassment leveled against their postdoctoral lecturer Michael Booth to be serious enough to warrant 240 days of pretrial detainment, despite Pennsylvania Rule 600 limiting pretrial detainment to 180 days. Yet, the same Haverford Lawyers and Administrators did not bother to include the alleged crime report in their annual filings as per The Clery Act. Was Michael Booth ever in danger? Was there a crime?

The allegator hemorrhaged 36 pints of blood while detained. Almost as if she had been sexually assaulted. Right? Parents did not have the option to inquire about this suppressed information while evaluating the consumer options available for their college-bound seniors.

Do you suppose Haverford suppressed this allegation to protect the student’s innocence? I suspect it was to protect their ranking as a consumer good.

As of 2012, not only are academic institutions in the USA receiving federal student aid barred from sheltering students and parents from “scary” crime data, but allegators can not be penalized for filing reports. So as of 2012, our allegator, let’s call her “Sally,” could not be put in jail for impugning the reputation of Haverford by suggesting that they hired psychosexual predators.

To clarify, reporting sexual harassment was not illegal before 2012. So neither Haverford College nor Michael Booth (of the same University of Wyoming at Laramie that crucified Matthew Shepard in 1998) are prevented from issuing an apology (type written on Haverford Letterhead.)   Nor is the medley of stooges at the Keystone Cops and Magistrates office banned from issuing an apology (type written on City of Havertown Letterhead).

But what message would that send to students? That sometimes consumer ratings are less important than Women’s Rights to safety and education?

The United States Congress has twice mandated that American women be accorded the same rights as those we salvaged for Afghani women via a decade of armed conflict abroad. Are states cowards to buckle to such federal pressures? Casual survey suggests that students themselves value the First Amendment, despite the associated risks.

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