ASSU debates Judicial Affairs changes

April 19, 2012, 3:00 a.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that the requirement of a majority, not unanimous, vote of the reviewing panel to find a student responsible represents a change in policy. Unanimous votes by reviewing panels have never been required at Stanford.

At Wednesday’s Graduate Student Council (GSC) meeting, council members and Undergraduate Senators debated with representatives from the Board of Judicial Affairs over a bill to approve the Alternate Review Process (ARP), currently in its pilot stage. The ARP reviews cases involving sexual assault, sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking in which a Stanford student is the alleged offender.


The shift to the ARP must be approved by a two-thirds majority of both the GSC and the ASSU Undergraduate Senate because it represents a change to the Judicial Affairs charter.


From 1996 to 2009, there were 104 reports of sexual assault, yet only 16 cases of sexual assault were reported to the Stanford Judicial Process and only three went to hearing, according to Judicial Affairs Office statistics.


After the establishment of the ARP in April 2010, however, there have been 21 cases reported, 13 transferred to ARP and 12 tried. Of the 12 hearings in the past two years, 10 offenders were found responsible, and only one verdict was reversed in appeal.


“We take that as a sign that people see ARP as a review process to make themselves feel more safe on campus,” said Jamie Pontius-Hogan, a student affairs officer in the Judicial Affairs Office.


Most of the proposed changes to the process were made in 2011 to align University policy with suggestions made in a “Dear Colleague Letter” from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Failure to change University policy on the subject would risk a breach of Stanford’s Title IX obligations and thus a loss of federal funding.


Those changes, which no one at the meeting disputed, include a lowered burden of proof from beyond a reasonable doubt to preponderance of evidence and allow an appeal from both the impacted party and the responding party to any verdict.


The Board of Judicial Affairs additionally proposed a reduction in the size of the reviewing panels from six to four sitting members on the judicial panel.


“[We chose four] out of concern for the comfort of both parties, and extreme concern for [their] privacy and confidentiality,” Pontius-Hogan explained in reviewing the ARP process. “Also, most people on the Board felt strongly that it should be student-centered and having four we were able to have three students and one faculty or staff member, which felt like a good balance.”


The more controversial piece of the policy proposed by the Board of Judicial Affairs and affirmed by the Office of the President was maintaining the requirement of a majority vote – not unanimity – by the reviewing panel to find a student responsible. Regardless, most cases since 2010 have been unanimous, according to the Board.


Student representatives in favor of the 3-1, majority vote requirement argued Wednesday that in bringing a case to a hearing, an affected student must convince several campus officials of the validity of their complaint, potentially including residential staff, professors, public health staff and investigators. The dissenting vote of a single member, they argued, should not nullify a process that is often long and traumatizing for the victim.


“What we’re talking about is where to put the burden of appeal…[since] most students found responsible will appeal,” said Michele Landis Dauber, professor of law.


Dauber noted that several students approached her, feeling intimidated by the pre-ARP Judicial Affairs process and worried about case outcome.


Those advocating a new requirement of unanimous voting to obtain a guilty verdict argued that such a requirement should be enacted to protect the rights of the accused, especially considering the already lowered standard of proof.


“I’d like to ask you to think for a moment about what this process would be like from the responding student’s perspective,” said graduate student Allison Rhines ‘10. “Think back to the last intimate act [you] were involved in and then think of trying to convince two people that [you] acted in a way that was respectful to the other person’s consent in that act…two people who weren’t there. And can you imagine having to do that on a burden of being suspended from Stanford?”


Although the meeting was officially a Graduate Student Council event, council members voted to give all present students a voice in the speaking order. Most of the current and several newly-elected undergraduate senators attended the meeting.


The Undergraduate Senate will likely put the subject on previous notice next Tuesday before voting on the charter the subsequent week. The GSC will vote on the charter on a similar time frame.

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