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Days after a Rutgers University student secretly used a webcam to record his roommate having a sexual encounter with another man, the roommate leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Now the student who did the taping has been indicted on hate-crimes charges.

Rutgers's logic-defying response to this tragic suicide? Ensuring that roommates are more compatible by offering "gender-neutral" dorms that will allow students to share rooms with those of the opposite sex.

After a Saint Mary's College student reported she had been sexually assaulted by a football player at neighboring Notre Dame, a friend of the player texted her that "messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea." Little more than a week later, she took her own life.

In a place that speaks of itself as the "Notre Dame family," the priest-president has refused to meet with the grieving mother and father, on the grounds that the school's disciplinary process would be "tainted." Meanwhile, the Department of Education is investigating the university's process for the way it responds to reports of sexual assault.

Over at Yale, 16 female students and alumni are claiming under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act that the campus is now a "hostile sexual environment" that denies women the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The evidence appears to be a number of boorish incidents, including Yale frat boys chanting outside women's housing that "No means yes. Yes means anal."

Let's stipulate for the record that in places filled with young people with raging hormones, there will be sexual encounters. Let's stipulate too that by their nature most of these encounters will not be public (leaving aside the University of Southern California student who did it on a rooftop with a woman in full view of fellow students). Throw in booze, and it's not hard to sympathize with university officials stuck sorting out the he-said-she-saids.

Before we extend too much sympathy, however, it's worth asking how much our colleges and universities have brought this upon themselves. In days past, the dean responsible for standards of student behavior was a figure of great sport (see "Animal House"). Of course, that was understood to be part of the job: the willingness to be the adult.

Today deans have given way to lawyers. The consequence has been endless gestures to raise "awareness," constant upgrading of procedures, and the proliferation of committees—all designed primarily to limit the institution's civil liability. Thus Rutgers says it is working on making the school "more inclusive." Thus we can expect Notre Dame to announce new procedures once the Education Department issues its findings. Thus too Yale has just announced a new "Advisory Committee on Campus Climate," dominated by . . . lawyers.

In the meantime, the students have picked up on the signals and the potential liability. Gone are the days when a loutish student might be called into the dean's office, threatened with suspension, and find himself saying "I'm sorry." Now when students go in for meetings, they have the family attorney in tow.

What an odd place this is making our campuses. On the one hand, we have more Take Back the Nights, more sensitivity courses, and more performances of the Vagina Monologues than we've ever had. On the other hand, the same people who give us these things keep telling us the problem they are designed to fix is getting worse. Earlier this month at the University of New Hampshire, Vice President Joe Biden announced that this administration's answer will be more Title IX "guidelines."

Some say we're in this mess because of the collapse of traditional sexual morality. Manifestly, when society's most educated members take the view that the only issue in what they see as a purely mechanical act is whether the involved were consenting, you're in for trouble. Nevertheless, the real threat to civility and common decency is this: the substitution of codes and committees for responsible adults exercising humanity and judgment.

For example: How much formal ethics training do you need to know that you don't secretly film someone in a private moment? Do you need a new committee to determine if women are being denied equal education at a school that has a female-majority student body? Instead of taking direction from lawyers, shouldn't our college authorities decide the right thing to do—and then instruct the lawyers to make that work?

Rutgers, Notre Dame and Yale are probably no worse than the rest. In fact, more will likely join them in the headlines, as deans and presidents surrender what little moral authority they have left to their in-house counsel and off-campus government authorities. Pity the young men and women who are left to make their way through this minefield on their own.
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