A night of drinking and flirtation between two Columbia University classmates four years ago turned into a federal lawsuit that ended in a settlement that underscores the contentiousness of the national debate over campus sexual misconduct cases. The Biden administration will be involved as it considers whether to overhaul federal sexual assault policies, the New York Times reports. Columbia restored the diploma of Ben Feibleman, who was found responsible by a university panel for sexually assaulting a female classmate. It is paying him an undisclosed cash award will tell prospective employers he is an alumnus in good standing. The case is unusual because Feibleman sued under his own name and has a 30-minute audiotape of the sexual encounter.
The accuser continues to say that an assault took place. The case paints a picture of a campus culture in which students have become hyper-aware of the academic rules on sexual misconduct and worry about how every intimate encounter will look down the road. The complaint against Feibleman was filed during the Obama administration, whose campus sexual assault policies favored believing the accusers, who are usually women. In 2017, Columbia refused to give Feibelman his diploma. He sued the university, which settled after the Trump administration adopted rules giving more due process protections to the accused, generally men. The Biden administration is expected to consider whether to dismantle the Trump administration’s rules. More than 600 federal and state lawsuits have been filed by students accused of sexual misconduct since 2011, when the Obama administration instituted its new policies, according to KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.