December 2, 2015

Judicial Administrator Office Slammed in Report

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Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series examining the Cornell disciplinary system. For the second part of the series, click here.

Over the past decade, the number of temporary suspensions used in Judicial Administrator investigations has increased by 350 percent, the number of suspensions on the merits of a case has increased by 333 percent and the number of expulsions has increased seven-fold. However, the number of referrals sent to the Office of the J.A. in the academic year 2013-14 was very similar to the number sent 10 years prior, rising only slightly from 812 in 2004 to 862 in 2014.

A graph shows the number of temporary suspensions, suspension based on merit and expulsions imposed on Cornell students over the past decade (Data from the annual report from the judicial administrator For the academic year 2013-2014).

A graph shows the number of temporary suspensions, suspension based on merit and expulsions imposed on Cornell students over the past decade (Data from the Annual Report from the Judicial Administrator for the Academic Year 2013-2014).

While the J.A. attributes these trends to an increase in serious cases, the law students tasked with representing students in J.A. proceedings, known as Judicial Codes Counselors, contend that recent developments in the University’s disciplinary practices merit attention.

How Did We Get Here?

At the conclusion of the 2014-2015 academic year, Amanda Minikus J.D. ’15, who was then ending her one-year term as JCC, released the first ever JCC Annual Report. In it, she alleged that the J.A.’s office, understaffed and overloaded with cases, was mismanaging investigations, underreporting its numbers and interpreting University codes in a way that reduced students’ rights.

The report focused extensively on University Policy 6.4, a modification to the Code of Conduct governing prohibited discrimination, protected-status harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault and violence. In the report, Minikus said lengthy investigations and haphazard investigative procedures were creating outcomes at odds with both University codes and federal guidelines.

Last spring, The Sun reported that the J.A. was taking longer to investigate sexual assault cases than allowed by University codes or recommended by the federal Office of Civil Rights. This past May, the Department of Education launched a Title IX investigation into Cornell’s handling of sexual assault cases. In September, the University announced that it would relieve the J.A. of the responsibility of investigating student referrals under Policy 6.4, instead transferring those cases to the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations.

In the midst of these policy shifts, former J.A. Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88 left the Office of the J.A. to assume the position of senior dean of students for inclusion, engagement and community support. Jody Kunk-Czaplicki, who had formerly been an associate judicial administrator, has served as interim J.A. since the beginning of this school year. A committee is currently beginning a nationwide search for candidates to permanently fill the position.

After a period of many changes, and with many more pending, the new campus disciplinary system is just starting to take shape.

‘A Duty to Release the Numbers’

Every year, the Office of the J.A. releases an annual report informing the community on the state of the campus disciplinary system. However, the JCC says the numbers contained in the report are general and cursory, contending that the office has not fulfilled its obligation to educate the campus community.

“Numbers in the Annual Report do not communicate meaningful trends or provide the Cornell community with a clear picture of the University’s response to instances of substantiated misconduct,” the JCC report reads. “Further, some information in the report is misleading and lacking appropriate context, giving community members a false impression of the nature and incidence of misconduct on campus.”

Kunk-Czaplicki defended the reporting done during Grant’s tenure, telling The Sun that the J.A.’s Annual Reports have been thorough in disseminating data and information. While Minikus agreed that the reporting was once fairly comprehensive, she argued the J.A. reports became “shorter, more general and less detailed on the numbers” over the course of Grant’s term.

The J.A.’s most recent annual report does contain statistics on the number of referrals the office received, the percentage of referrals that involved alcohol or other drugs and the number of investigations that resulted in suspension or expulsion. It offers its most comprehensive reporting on sexual assault investigations: It relays the number of sexual assault referrals received each academic year and details how many of those referrals progressed to each point in the investigative and appeals processes.

A graph shows the number of sexual assault referrals, investigations and appeals since 2007 (data from the Annual Report of the Judicial Administrator for Academic Year 2013-2014).

A graph shows the number of sexual assault referrals, investigations and appeals since 2007 (data from the Annual Report of the Judicial Administrator for Academic Year 2013-2014).

However, the J.A.’s report offers no information on the use of any sanctions other than suspension and expulsion. It does not report what type of offenses lead to those extreme sanctions, and it often refers to offenses by categories like “serious, physical complaints,” without breaking the numbers down to speak to the level of danger imposed on the community. The JCC also believes that some of the reporting is misleading, citing instances in which case descriptions leave out important details

The J.A. also does not disclose how many referrals have resulted in findings of code violations. The report says that the Office of the J.A. received 862 referrals last year, with 20 resulting in punitive suspension or expulsions. However, it does not detail how many referrals resulted in the imposition of any lesser sanction, which could range from a verbal warning to community service, leaving the remaining 842 referrals left unaddressed.

A graph shows the number of referrals sent to the J.A.’s office since 2004. Referrals rose suddenly in 2006, but have since returned to roughly their pre-2005 levels (data from the Annual Report of the Judicial Administrator for Academic Year 2013-2014).

A graph shows the number of referrals sent to the J.A.’s office since 2004. Referrals rose suddenly in 2006, but have since returned to roughly their pre-2005 levels (data from the Annual Report of the Judicial Administrator for Academic Year 2013-2014).

In the JCC report, Minikus called for the release of more detailed numbers, emphasizing that this information is imperative for the community to form realistic conclusions on the nature of disciplinary processes at Cornell.

“We cannot have administrators shirking their duty in informing the community on how many cases are reported, etcetera,” she said. “The J.A. has a duty to release the numbers, and they’re just not doing it.”

When Suspensions Aren’t Punishments

Under the Code of Conduct, the J.A. is delegated the authority to decide when a student should be temporarily suspended during the course of an investigation. The J.A. can choose to temporarily suspend under two circumstances: when an investigation is pending (for example, if the J.A. thinks a student presents a danger to the community but has not yet been found in violation) or if a student violates a No-Contact Directement, which is an order for the student not go within a certain distance of or to refrain from contact with another party.

While suspended, the student cannot be physically on campus or take part in any Cornell-related activities. Both the JCC and the J.A. agree that temporary suspension can be a necessary tool to keep the campus safe.

In an interview with The Sun, Kunk-Czaplicki said temporary suspensions are used only in extraordinary circumstances. While she said she was not sure exactly how often the option is invoked, she estimated that there are, “on average, two a year.” This estimation was mostly accurate between 2004 and 2007; however, the last J.A. Annual Report shows that the number of temporary suspensions spiked suddenly in 2008, and has averaged 5.6 a year since then, peaking at nine in the 2013-14 academic year.

The JCC’s office has expressed discomfort with this trend because, Minikus explained, temporary suspensions have the power to do immediate harm to a student, even with minimal evidence of wrongdoing. She said she has seen students temporarily suspended based on the testimony of a single witness or based on the accidental violation of a No-Contact Directement.

“The trouble I have with the J.A.’s procedure is that this is in the hands of a single administrator, and there is no official check in place with which to [immediately] review that initial decision,” she said.

Minkus told a story of one client who was denied a review of his temporary suspension until his entire case was resolved, and another of a student who was suspended during finals week. These situations can result in permanent academic or emotional damage to a student, she said. And while she acknowledged that temporarily suspended students are always allowed to appeal their suspensions, she believes this option is not speedy enough to “meaningfully mitigate the effects of a decision to temporarily suspend.”

When students are suspended, they first have to draft an appeal arguing that the action was unjust. Minikus estimated that this usually takes at least 24 hours to do well. The Code of Conduct requires that a review authority then consider the appeal within five days. However, the review panels are not standing; there are pools of community members designated to serve on the panels, but a panel to review a specific case is not assembled until the appeal is submitted. While Minikus said she found participants to be timely in their reviews of suspensions once the panels were formed, she said that it often took over a week to find people available to review the case. During this period, the codes give the suspended student no recourse.

Kunk-Czaplicki emphasized that temporary suspensions are reserved for extraordinary cases, and said she could not think of a time when a student was temporarily suspended and later found not to be in violation of University codes. However, Minikus reported that she had seen “several” clients temporarily suspended and then later exonerated.

Both Kunk-Czaplicki and Minikus said that if a student is suspended and later found not in violation, the J.A.’s office will work hard to get that student academic accommodations in order to mitigate the harm of the suspension.  However, Minikus maintains that no accommodations can fully erase the effects of a prolonged absence during the semester.

Kunk-Czaplicki stressed that decisions to suspend students are made carefully and painstakingly, adding that she looks “forward to a robust community discussion on how our community defines” the extraordinary circumstances required for a temporary suspensions.

Because Kunk-Czaplicki took office at the beginning of this academic year, there is not yet data available on her use of temporary suspensions, and JCC Emily Sanchirico law says not enough time has passed to gauge Kunk-Czaplicki’s willingness to use the measure. However, over the years Grant served the J.A.’s office, suspensions were invoked more and more frequently.

A graph shows the number of temporary suspensions used in J.A. investigations between 2004 and 2013. The Office of the JCC has criticized the increased use of temporary suspensions, saying they are sometimes implemented without sufficient evidence (Data from the Annual Report from the Judicial Administrator for the Academic Year 2013-2014).

A graph shows the number of temporary suspensions used in J.A. investigations between 2004 and 2013. The Office of the JCC has criticized the increased use of temporary suspensions, saying they are sometimes implemented without sufficient evidence (Data from the Annual Report from the Judicial Administrator for the Academic Year 2013-2014).

“The trouble is that we saw, in our opinion, temporary suspensions being used more and more liberally, in cases where it’s not really clear what happened,” Minikus said.

To prevent undue punishment in cases where facts are uncertain, Minikus advocates that a standing panel be created to review all temporary suspension requests, and that the panel have to vote that a particular investigation requires suspension before the accused can be separated from campus. This would essentially take the appeals procedure and move it up in the process, making the same kind of vote necessary before the suspension is initiated, rather than being available as a recourse after the fact.

“There are tough decisions, and I just feel like temporary suspension is not one that should be left to any one individual,” Minikus said.

11 thoughts on “Judicial Administrator Office Slammed in Report

  1. Sounds to me that This J.A. Office has screwed up royally and repeatedly. They almost ruined my best friends life over a false accusation a female student made about him because they were either too busy or too lazy to investigate the overwhelming evidence he provided in defense of himself. He actually took short leave of absence because of the mental strain and emotional duress brought on by the whole lengthy situation. His reputation was affected. They need to be held accountable for this, these are students lives and futures that they are affecting with their negligence.

  2. It’s absolutely bullshit that this office is implored by the Department of Education to investigate accusations of violent felonies. With a preponderance standard, and in many cases no right to face their accuser, the accused can never have what western justice systems have held as a fair trial for centuries. Innocent students may be held “responsible”, and those held “not responsible” have little recourse against those who may falsely accuse them. On the flipside, students who are actually guilty may be held not responsible due to the fact that the JA is ill equipped to actually do a forensic investigation. Furthermore, even if held “responsible”, guilty students face minimal consequences- far less than those imposed on their inner city counterparts. There is absolutely no reasonable justification for this system, it’s criminal in its negligence for the rights of the accused, and criminal in its inability to get real justice for victims.

  3. Yes when the liberal academia creates a system of “justice” the first thing out the window is justice especially when dealing with “victim class” complaints against non-victim class students. The level of false complaints is highlighted by a recent POC rally at another University where the leader claimed twitter threats of violence were made against her and other POC. Turns out the leader had sent the threats from a bogus twitter account she created. Since all IVY and most top Universities discriminate against certain students in their respective “discipline” regimes, top students just have to hold their nose and hope they do not get dragged into the farce before they graduate. Unfortunately the few real victims also suffer, with the many falsely accused.

  4. Very informative and revealing article. Unfortunately my son was one of Mary Beth Grant’s victims. A wonderful young man who was punished harshly and without due process by Cornell’s so called Judicial system. My son has suffered undue emotional pain and suffering, and was not offered any support by Cornell University. I disagree with Ms Kunk’s statement that decisions to suspend students are made carefully and painstakingly, for this was not the case for my son. How do you make a decision to suspend a student without hearing from the both the victims and the accused? What kind of judicial system is that? In my loved one’s case he was suspended because of accidentally violating a no contact directive, if you want to even call it a violation. Believe me this was not an extraordinary case, and by no means was my son a threat to the Cornell campus. Furthermore, the manner in which the suspension was handed down to him was cruel and even dangerous. He was suspended late on a Friday evening and directed to immediately leave the campus, he had no where to turn for support. Thankfully, I was able to get up there in a timely manner to prevent a perhaps tragic outcome. I hope Mary Beth Grant is held accountable for her actions, and the unnecessary pain and suffering she has caused to innocent victims.

  5. Very much an office that over adjudicates. The JCCs are valuable commodities to ensure fairness, yet there is little they can remedy against rogue administrators who believe that the JAO is superior to all others. The JAO’s self righteousness is appalling and anyone of any worth or character does best to distant themselves from the JAO.

  6. 5 Reasons to NOT report your rape to the JA’s office:

    1) It will take 6 months for the JAO to investigate and arrive at a ruling.
    2) If you are the victim, you will be contacted during Finals Week (2 months after your initial report and 4 months before a ruling is made) and required to review dozens of pages of draft witness statements and formally respond to the JAO by Friday of Finals Week.
    3) If you are the victim, you will be contacted by the JAO during your Winter Break, at home, and be presented with a “plea deal” concocted by the perpetrator’s lawyer and pressured to accept the deal in order to make the case “go away”.
    4) If you are the victim’s parent, you will be told by Jody Kunk-Czaplisky that there is a bombshell witness who contradicts your daughter’s statement and wouldn’t that change your mind about the case? Later, the bombshell witness will recant his statement based on his mistake–he was recalling a different weekend where the perpetrator was having sex with a different girl.
    5) The perpetrator will be found in violation and guilty of sexual battery–do you even remember? it’s been 6 months since you filed the report–and he will not be suspended.

    This case was just reported in October 2015 and a ruling was made in April 2016. If you don’t think there is a huge academic and emotional toll on the victim going through this process, you are wrong.

    • The JA’s office already errs on the side of the victim — if there’s only a 50/50 chance it happened, they’ll assume it did happen. If the guy is found in violation and guilty of sexual battery, he absolutely will be suspended or expelled, so I don’t see how #5 above is possible.

      That being said, I agree that the JA should make an effort to not disrupt students during Finals Week. However, if they shouldn’t disrupt students during the academic semester (to avoid an academic toll) and they shouldn’t disrupt students on break at home, when should they contact students?

      Also re #5 above, I’m confused by “do you even remember?”. If there really was a rape, of course the victim would remember — yes, even 6 months later.

      • 1) The JA’s office can affirm the perpetrator’s guilt, yet choose to ignore the Investigator’s recommendation of suspension. I have in hand exactly one JA ruling that shows it is possible. Rather than argue on a comments board, why not investigate and prove it to yourself , one way or the other?

        2) I do not know if anyone else has a problem being contacted during an academic semester outside of finals week. You raised the issue.

        3) Perhaps you have been in this situation. If y0u have, then you would know that the process becomes about the Process, not about the crime. It becomes about reviewing draft interview notes, final interview transcripts published in the report, responding to both, responding to responses, responding to plea deals, reviewing final report draft, reviewing final report, responding to an appeal, etc. Of course you will remember the crime, because you will have been reminded of it in document after document, recounted by witness after witness, and by the perpetrator himself (delivered in the stilted words of his diligent Judicial Codes Counselor), many, many times over the course of 6+ months.

        You speak as if you have direct knowledge of the JA’s policies and procedures–and ab0ut remembering your own rape. If you have been through the process and truly defend it, then stand up and defend the JA’s office in a meaningful way supported by facts and case examples. They could use it at this point.

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