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Alums implore Stanford to fix disciplinary process that they allege may have contributed to student death

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:54 p.m.

A group of Stanford alumni released documents alleging that administrators have consistently failed to protect students during University disciplinary proceedings.

The alumni, led by lawyer Bob Ottilie ’77 and affiliated with the Student Justice Project, further alleged that, had the University implemented reforms to the campus disciplinary procedures the group had proposed, Katie Meyer ’22, who died by suicide in a campus residence in March, would “in all likelihood” be alive.

Meyer’s parents, Gina and Steven, said in March that their daughter was facing potential disciplinary action from the University, which they suggested may have contributed to her death. A University spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Daily at the time that the University is not able to share information about confidential student disciplinary matters.

Ottilie said in a Friday interview that Meyer’s death might have been avoided if Stanford had adopted the group’s recommendations in 2012 and 2013, which included a proposal that free alumni lawyers be provided to every student involved in campus disciplinary proceedings. 

“If Katie Meyer took her life because of a disciplinary letter, I can say unequivocally that she would not have taken her own life if she had an effective support person, which is what our goal was a decade ago,” Ottilie said.

University spokesperson Luisa Rapport wrote in a statement to The Daily that Stanford is formally reviewing the Student Judicial Charter, a process that began in 2020 and is running in partnership with students, faculty and administrators to “ensure that our policies are fair and efficient.” The review, she wrote, is expected to conclude by winter of the upcoming academic year.

Rapport declined to comment specifically on the allegations raised in the documents and press release. 

The Daily has reached out to Katie’s Save, a foundation launched by Meyer’s parents, for comment.

Among the documents shared by the group in a Wednesday press release were a 2012 “case study” of “how three students were deprived of rights afforded them under the Stanford judicial charter” and a 2013 “internal review” of 24 testimonials of students, parents and alumni’s experience with the Office of Community Standards (OCS), alleging that OCS employees “routinely violate both the spirit and the letter” of the Student Judicial Charter.

The documents also included letters members of the group sent to University administrators, including former President John Hennessy, former Provost John Etchemendy and Vice President and General Counsel Debra Zumwalt. The letters call on the University to ensure that “every student has competent representation” and offers the group’s support to recruit and train alumni representatives.

Ottilie said Stanford’s disciplinary system isolates students and reduces the risk of acquittal.

“Stanford maintains a presumption of guilt, instead of innocence, lacks any sense of due process or evidence, and is hostile to students,” Ottilie said. “Imagine being accused of cheating based on one witness, surrounded by middle-aged professors, graduate students and staff, and having no lawyer or advocate on your side. Sometimes they don’t allow witnesses or cross-examination. That’s what Stanford does.”

The intent of the Student Justice Project was to provide pro-bono alumni lawyers to students facing disciplinary infractions, according to Ottilie. He also said that this project and similar issues have been brought to Stanford’s attention by alumni groups like his own, yet consistently brushed aside. 

Although Ottilie is not in direct contact with Katie Meyer’s parents, he said he has spoken with Katie’s Save in order to reform Stanford’s disciplinary processes. 

Ottilie said, “If we don’t effect change, there will be more tragedy.”

Karsen Wahal ’25 is a writer from Arizona. He’s interested in studying economics and political science. Contact Karsen at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.Kate Selig is a senior staff writer. She previously served as the Vol. 260 editor in chief. Contact her at kselig 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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