November 30, 2011

Proposal to Change Process for Sexual Assault Cases Fails Vote

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A proposal to resolve sexual assault accusations against students by using a process similar to the one for faculty or staff members failed in a vote by the Codes and Judicial Committee on Wednesday.

The proposal, which was defeated by a vote of 3 to 6, aimed to move sexual assault accusations against students into a system similar to the University’s Policy 6.4. That policy, currently used for accusations against faculty or staff, calls for an investigator to gather the facts relating to the accusation, decide whether the alleged assault occurred, and then recommend corrective actions.

That process is markedly different from the one currently in place for accusations against students. The existing system, under the Campus Code of Conduct, includes a variety of protections for the accused — protections that are modeled after the criminal justice system — that Policy 6.4 does not incorporate. Among them is the use of the University Hearing Board, which hears arguments by the opposing sides, and then makes a decision. Under the Code, both sides of the dispute can also bring in outside lawyers to help argue their cases.

After a letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education last semester, the University Assembly passed an amendment that kept sexual accusations against students within the Code, but lowered the burden of proof required for the accuser to win the case. In response to the Department of Education’s directive, the amendment also gave accusers the same rights to appeal the decision as the accused receive.

Last semester’s amendment was intended to be temporary and remain in place only until the University Assembly and the Codes and Judicial Committee crafted a permanent response to the Department of Education’s directive. At its meeting on Wednesday, the CJC discussed what that long-term response should be.

Jim Blair, a representative of the University Assembly, wrote the proposal to move sexual assault accusations into a system like Policy 6.4.

Blair said that his suggested system for sexual assault cases “may be a revision of University Policy 6.4 … or it may be a new policy modeled after that policy.”

He added that, under his proposal, the Code would still include provisions against sexual violence, but it would direct any accusations to the new system.

Several members of the Women’s Resource Center supported Blair’s proposal, saying that it addressed their concerns with the current system.

Eva Drago ’12, who is on the board of the Women’s Resource Center, said she wants a process that prevents sexual assault victims from having to detail their experiences to fellow students — who currently sit on the University Hearing Board, which decides cases brought against students — and that limits the role of lawyers, who can currently cross-examine victims when the cases are presented.

Three members of the CJC offered a separate idea — which did not come to a vote at Wednesday’s meeting — for resolving sexual assault cases.

That proposal would allow students to use Policy 6.4 to file a grievance against the University if they feel the University or its administrators violated their rights under Title IX by allowing a hostile campus environment. However, if a student accuses another student of sexual assault, that case would still be resolved under the Code of Conduct.

The proposal — which was created by Prof. Kevin Clermont, law, Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, collective bargaining, and Matt Campbell grad — is a compromise between moving cases to Policy 6.4 and keeping them in the Code, Clermont said. The idea is modeled after a system recently adopted at Princeton, he said.

Clermont argued that his proposal better protects the rights of accused students.

“When you punish someone, certain rights need to be respected. The Campus Code was built to respect those rights,” he said.

Lieberwitz emphasized that the consequences under the Code of Conduct, which can include expulsion, mean that accused students deserve certain rights.

“We should take seriously that there are severe potential consequences for the people being accused,” she said. “The model that we have recognizes that.”

In addition to protecting the rights of accused students, this system would be a way for an accuser to go against the University “and say, ‘I have a complaint against you,’” Lieberwitz said.

Clermont said that the proposed system would comply with the Department of Education’s directive. No representative from the University Counsel’s office was present at the meeting to offer the counsel’s opinion.

Ashley Harrington ’13, who attended the CJC meeting and is a member of the Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board, said that the CJC should remember that the Code of Conduct was created after student activists in the 1960s demanded a greater role for students in disciplinary proceedings.

“It’s very important for student voices to be on that board,” she said, referring to the University Hearing Board.

Harrington said that she is concerned issues of race and class might not be addressed adequately by a an entity that is less representative than the UHB.

“To say that one person should make that decision … is not OK with me,” she said.

Rather than preventing students from ever being involved in the process, the accusers in sexual assault cases should be allowed to choose whether students sit on the board that hears the cases, Harrington said.

The CJC will reconvene next semester to decide which system for sexual assault accusations it will recommend to the University Assembly.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst