Personal Responsibility

I know I will be accused of being old fashioned and out of touch with reality and if so I admit it, but here it is.  The position of a university regarding sexual crimes, a growing campus concern, should be prefaced by this simple statement:

Sexual relationships outside of marriage have psychological and physiological consequences. 

This emotional topic is an essential part of personal responsibility on university campuses.  President Obama’s Not Alone for example, couched in legalism and rules, reinforces the complexities of the problem but falls short in every other way.  It enables by default.

The problem is moral — not legal.

Results of indiscriminate sexual activity by students are real.  In a few generations a timeless, first-line of approach (don’t, there are consequences), has been tainted by permissiveness (everybody is hooking-up, it’s OK).   Responsibility and accountability have dissolved.  What is now counted as part of the cost of an enlightened society was, a few short decades ago, untenable.

Justice Clarence Thomas articulated a wall of separation between one’s circumstances and one’s behavior. He observed that circumstances where not an excuse for behavior: “…unthinkable in the household in which I was raised.”  He continued, “The mere suggestion that difficult circumstances could prevail over individual effort would evoke a response that my brother and I could lip-sync on cue: ‘Old man can’t is dead; I helped bury him.’”

Philosopher Robert Kane reflecting on free will said that personal responsibility rests with the individual alone.  It cannot be given away.

The Orlando Sentinel editorialized recently that Florida’s universities must do a better job in prosecuting charges of rape and sexual misconduct.  At the University of Central Florida… since 2005, 44 rapes have been reported to UCF police but only 12 arrests have been made.” Not a single conviction in any case. No consequences for deplorable behavior.   Twenty percent of the women on college campuses will be sexually accosted, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Ron Haskins, of the Brookings Institution claims there is a sequence of personal responsibility and that young people should respect it.  Diligent studying, work, marriage, and sexual intimacy each have a place in the chain of responsibility to which we are all subject. He recalls President Obama’s recommendation in his first inaugural address, young Americans should be guided by a clear and straightforward set of goals: finish your education, get a job, get married, and only then have children — and get the sequence right.

Universities have a special role.  Educational leader Ernest Boyer correctly claimed,“The aim of the undergraduate experience, is not only to prepare the young for productive careers, but also to enable them to live lives of dignity and purpose; not only to generate new knowledge, but to channel that knowledge to humane ends; not merely to study government, but to help shape a citizenry that can promote the public good.”

Individual actions cannot be placated by rules, regulations and committees.  If there is an antidote to be found universities should help lead the expedition to uncover it, rather than hide behind policies that transform individual responsibility into institutional culpability for personal deeds.

Universities struggle with sexual assault but solutions outside of a shared ethical framework don’t exist. Sexual crimes are violations of law and should be dealt with by appropriate law enforcement agencies, not university committees.  University self-policing of crime fails building a labyrinth that distributes personal responsibility into so many nooks and crannies that it disappears.  Reinforcing acceptable and appropriate behavior are legitimate university functions.  Criminal prosecution is not.  And, rape is not adjudicated by Title IX as some would argue.  “Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.”

Thomas Sowell summed it up best in The Great Escape:  “The great escape of our times is escape from personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s own behavior.”  People who blame circumstances or others rather than accepting responsibility drive organizations into a muddle of explanation and inaction.

By the way, this piece is written for boys only.  Men don’t need it.  Women who carry the preponderance of the burden of sexual criminality know it already.

I probably should have said that up front.

Committees, drugs, condoms and consent won’t address the real issue.  It is immoral for one person to take advantage of another under any circumstance, for any reason.

3 thoughts on “Personal Responsibility

  1. Interesting perspective. I agree with most but to think that people are not going to have sex before marriage is an ideal fantasy. I never planned on being a single mom. Thank goodness I was, I may not have a child at all today and had I got married it would have been to an abuser. I do think teaching safety and morality is worth a try, I will admit I am a bit skeptical though when it comes to rape. Men who rape are very low on morals, not due to not knowing about them but due to a lack of concern for them. We are more and more a society of narcissists. So much so, they took the diagosis out of the DSM.

  2. “Individual actions can not be placated by rules, regulations and committees.” This is the key element of our moderator’s comment for the week. It would be easy to begin a debate about attitudes to sexual relationship in contemporary times but this would be missing the point. On Thursday, I attended one of those mammoth briefings that lasted 90 minutes in which it was stated that as a result of new rules, “Education is no longer the exclusive role of faculty.” Instead, we had a number of quasi-legal briefings over filling in forms and making reports in case the University loses millions of dollars. I must differ. Faculty are not social workers nor police officers. They are also not informers in our increasing surveillance state. Neither can they discern whether a complaint is genuine or manufactured by a “Bad Seed” for malicious reasons. These are the provinces of specially trained people and I do not have the necessary professional training of a psychologist or social worker. Yet I’ve had two cases of students telling me of (a) having to leave their apartment because of an abusive boyfriend or (b) living next door to a veteran with violent P.T.S.D. tendencies. On both cases, I referred these students to the relevant bodies in Women’s Studies and University administration. I did not fill in any forms. I did not inquire further since this would approach the level of intrusion and snooping. Undoubtedly, there are genuine cases but they should be handled by the appropriate authorities whom faculty should refer to. Faculty should not be involved in law enforcement nor any aspects of a surveillance state that relies on hearsay. It is asking too much and mistakes could be made for the most sincere reasons. Yes, there is the issue of personal responsibility but another logo could be added as a subtitle to this week’s comment – “The Road to Hell is paved with the best intentions.”

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