Lawyer Praises Harvard’s New Sexual Assault Policy Changes
In an editorial in this week’s Chronicle Review, a publication of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Boston lawyer Harvey A. Silverglate said his law firm, Silverglate and Good, represented a defendant who came “frighteningly close” to being falsely convicted by the Ad Board last year.
“The accused student in that case would almost certainly have been falsely convicted were it not for the intervention of a faculty member who conducted an independent investigation that uncovered exculpatory evidence the subcommittee had ignored,” Silverglate said in the piece, co-written with Joshua E. Gewolb ’01, who is also a Crimson editor.
Silverglate said that the case led to the formation of the Ad Hoc faculty committee that investigated Harvard’s policy, eventually leading to the procedural change approved by the Faculty in the spring that now requires corroborating evidence before the Ad Board investigates a sexual assault complaint.
Harvard officials had said the review of the policy was sparked by the concern of Board members after seven cases of sexual assault—a marked increase from years before—were brought before the Board with only one of those cases being successfully decided in the 2000-2001 academic year.
Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 declined to comment on Silverglate’s statement, referring only to the reasons stated in the Ad Hoc faculty committee’s report for the review.
“Because of the substantial increase in these cases, and responding to issues raised by a member of the faculty and the Dean of Harvard College, the Dean of the Faculty asked the three of us to ‘review the Board’s policies and practices...and to make whatever findings or recommendations...you may feel appropriate,’” reads the Ad Hoc faculty committee’s report.
Silverglate, who argued in his editorial entitled “It’s Time to End ‘He Said/She Said’ Justice” that Harvard’s “new policy is one of the best things to happen to a campus-judicial system in years,” said he could not elaborate further on the circumstances of the case, citing attorney-client privilege.
The Department of Education is currently conducting its own review of Harvard’s sexual assault policy, in response to a complaint by a student that the procedural change violates the Title IX gender discrimination statute.
Wendy Murphy, a Boston lawyer who helped formulate the complaint, said in an e-mail that, if true, the claim that a near false conviction was the motivation behind the Ad Hoc faculty committee’s investigation was “extremely disturbing.”
“Clearly, the data does not show a problem in the adjudicatory process that cries out for a ‘cure’ to protect against ‘false convictions,’” Murphy said. “It does the opposite—and Harvard’s new corroboration requirement is not only sexist and regressive, it is plainly a move in the wrong direction.”
Murphy said she believes the new procedural step will hinder truthful, not false, allegations of sexual assault from being investigated.
“It is [a] rule that embodies the idea that the word of a woman is not weighty enough to justify the expenditure of resources even for the purpose of conducting an investigation,” Murphy said.
—Staff writer Anne K. Kofol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.