I want to suggest that both ardent proponents and harsh critics of the Alternative Review Process — roughly speaking, although the partisan lines are not nearly this simple and clean-cut, “liberals” and “conservatives” — take a moment to reexamine their opinions about the ARP against the light of their own deeply held moral and ideological convictions. Because it seems to me that both sides have abandoned important tenets of their larger philosophies in their pursuit of policy victory.
Let’s start with the so-called civil libertarian or leftist position. This campus recently witnessed a widely supported drive to collect signatures for a California ballot referendum outlawing the death penalty in this state on the grounds that (among other reasons) it is racially discriminatory, convicts and executes innocent people and denies the accused due process of law. More broadly, law-and-order liberals tend to worry a great deal about the possibility of false convictions in criminal cases, the right of defendants to adequate counsel and the overly harsh nature and length of criminal sentences. They also argue that severe punishment of offenders doesn’t necessarily bring “closure” or relief to victims or victims’ families, dismissing the “family’s feelings” rationale for imposing exacting retribution upon violent criminals.
So what happened to the left’s supposed dedication to protecting the rights of the accused against the abuses of an overly harsh and inflexible system? It seems odd that campus liberals are now arguing for (among other things) a system that denies the accused the right to face his accuser, does not provide him with an attorney or qualified attorney substitute, eliminates the traditional right of the accused to be considered innocent until proven guilty, removes his right to call witnesses in his favor and to cross-examine the witnesses assembled against him and can place the accused in situations of double jeopardy.
It might be argued in response that broader social paradigms simply don’t apply on a communal college campus, where everyone knows everyone else, racism doesn’t exist and the possibility for false convictions is low or nonexistent. First of all, that comparison is slightly illogical: areas of the country with less racism or a smaller-town vibe don’t have fewer legal protections for accused criminals, and as Stanford sets up its own quasi-judicial system, it’s not clear why we should either.
But for an illustration closer to home, let me refer you to a now-famous report from the Stanford Police Department of April 9th, 2011, reporting a sexual assault on Stanford campus by an unidentified male, “Black, around 30 years of age” — who suddenly morphed into an “Asian Indian” man who smelled of a “scent similar to apples” upon further reflection by the victim. Any chance for a false conviction there, or any sense that race might play a role in influencing memory or justice, even on this campus?
But the standard “conservative” position on the ARP is equally bizarre and contradictory. Out of a broader ideological ethos that trumpets harsher punishments for all, fewer protections for alleged criminals and a swift resolution to cases involving people who were obviously guilty all along has magically emerged a deep and nuanced concern for the natural rights of unjustly accused Stanford males, unfairly trampled under the heel of an oppressive judicial system. Where did that come from?
As soon as the women of this campus are the victims, the conservative narrative seems to imply, the possibility for false convictions skyrockets; the Bureau of Judicial Affairs undergoes a nefarious transformation into a totalitarian regime bent on expelling innocent frat boys, rather than an institution dedicated to the pursuit of justice; and the lack of technical protections for the accused becomes an immense concern every student on campus should deplore, rather than a positive development facilitating the justified punishment of depraved felons. A little consistency, please.
Ultimately, it seems that where the ARP is concerned, all sides are willing to throw their intellectual baggage out the window. Campus liberals become stern law-and-order enforcers, thumping their fists on the table and demanding justice for victims, while campus conservatives suddenly acquire a passion for the fine details of due process and fair trials, quibbling over the legal technicalities they usually detest when applied to society at large.
As the ARP becomes the third rail of campus politics, emotional op-eds fly and the old Undergraduate Senate punts the question to the new senate, fearing to actually accomplish something important, let’s all take a moment and think about whether our opinions on this important policy issue are in fact consistent with our deeper underlying values. If we do, the final result will be more honest, more thorough and, in the end, a great deal more meaningful.
Let Miles know what you think at milesu1 “at” stanford “dot” edu.