Rep. Polis Apologizes for ‘Major Gaffe’ During Hearing on Campus Sexual Assault

By Zachary Leshin | September 18, 2015 | 2:50 PM EDT


Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). (AP photo)

( -- Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) issued an apology Tuesday for suggesting that private colleges expel students accused of sexual assault - even if there is only a 20 percent chance that they are guilty.

Polis admitted he made a “major gaffe” during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training last week when he said: “If there's ten people that have been accused and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all ten people.”

"We're not talking about depriving them of life and liberty, we're talking about they're transferred to another university, for crying out loud,” Polis continued.

“Well let's be clear about this. That is not what we're talking about” responded Joseph Cohn, legislative and policy director for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

In a follow-up statement to the hearing, Cohn pointed out that “being expelled for a sexual assault follows an individual for the rest of his or her life.”

Polis also stated during the hearing that if he was in charge of a private college or university, “I might say: ‘Well, even if there is only a 20 or 30 percent chance that it happened, I would want to remove this individual.”

“Why shouldn't a private institution in the interest of promoting a safe environment use an even lower standard than a preponderance of evidence, like a reasonable likelihood standard?” he asked Cohn.

Cohn replied: “That question has been answered in the public institutions in that due process is paramount and due process requires reasonable determinations which you don't get under the even lower standards than preponderance....The lowest standard you can use in a court for the fact-finding portion would be preponderance of evidence.”

“During that exchange, I went too far by implying that I support expelling innocent students from college campuses, which is something neither I nor other advocates of justice for survivors of sexual assault support,” Polis said in his apology. “That is not what I meant to say and I apologize for my poor choice of words.”

But FIRE’s Susan Kruth criticized Polis for his continuing support for having colleges handle sexual assault cases instead of law enforcement.

“Essentially, his argument goes, your life is ruined either way, so even why bother trying to clear your name? To put it mildly, this is hardly a defense of schools’ failure to provide students due process,” she wrote.