Framing the Campus Sexual Assault Epidemic as an Issue of Systematic Corruption

Over the past few years, in the United States, the issue of sexual assault on university campuses has become increasingly prominent—the subject of student protests across the country, exposés in the mainstream press, and widely-released documentary films (see here and here). The issue is not simply that such assaults happen, but that universities are failing in their basic duties to protect students and to discipline those who commit assaults. There are many theories as to why universities are reluctant to more aggressively investigate and sanction offenders, but many assert that a root cause is the university administrators’ concern about losing public face and, worse, money. This fear is especially acute among those universities with large, renowned varsity sports teams: College athletes are disproportionately responsible for sexual assaults, but expelling or otherwise sanctioning them would cost the university money and public support.

This phenomenon—university administrators’ worries over the financial and reputational success of athletics programs leading to improper or insufficient responses to sexual assault allegations against athletes—can and should be framed as a form of systemic institutional corruption. I recognize that framing this as a problem of corruption——rather than one of negligence or callousness—is unconventional and perhaps controversial, even for people who are outraged at universities’ inadequate response to sexual assault. After all, using the language of “corruption” implies insidious motives. Yet the label is not only an apt description of the problem, but using that vocabulary, and that diagnosis, suggests alternative approaches for fixing the problem.

Continue reading

Can Universities Teach People Not To Be Corrupt? Reflections on the Poznan Declaration

Some months back, I came across the Poznan Declaration on “Whole-of-University Promotion of Social Capital, Health and Development,” which its proponents describe as “a formal statement aimed at mainstreaming ethics and anti-corruption in higher education.” (I’d meant to write about it earlier, but I got sidetracked by a relatively peripheral reference in the Declaration to changes in national corruption levels.) In general, I like the idea of promoting anticorruption norms through education, and as a university professor I’m naturally sympathetic to (and flattered by) the idea that university education could make a big difference here. And insofar as the main objective of the Poznan Declaration’s supporters is to promote more discussion among university faculty and administrators in different countries about these issues, I’m all for it.

Yet in reading the Declaration, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of nagging skepticism about some of the implicit premises behind the enterprise. Let me see if I can try to articulate some of the reasons, and perhaps invite some of the proponents of the Poznan Declaration, and the more general push to incorporate “anticorruption education” in the university curriculum, to respond. Continue reading