In its second meeting, the 14th Undergraduate Senate began discussion Tuesday on the Alternative Review Process (ARP), a judicial procedure for cases involving sexual assault, sexual harassment or relationship violence at Stanford.
Although the Senate did not revise or vote on any of the ARP provisions, Senator Ashley Harris ’15 announced that the Board of Judicial Affairs voted Tuesday to add an “innocent until found responsible” clause back into the ARP charter, rectifying a controversial absence that Harris said was merely an oversight. The senators also presented their opinions on the discretion of the investigator in admitting evidence, the unitary appellate jurisdiction of the vice provost, the unanimous-versus-majority voting requirement, the size of review panels and the right to confront witnesses.
Garima Sharma ’15, Senate deputy chair, expressed an opinion on almost every issue and supported the existing provisions of the ARP. She endorsed the preponderance of evidence burden of proof by likening the ARP to a civil trial, in which preponderance of evidence is sometimes used, and reminded her peers of the promising effect that the lowered standard of proof has had on encouraging victims to report cases. She also echoed the logic of the Dear Colleague Letter, which says that Title IX suits and Office for Civil Rights discrimination suits are tried under preponderance of evidence and, therefore, campus hearings involving sexual assault should similarly adopt this standard.
“In terms of the standard of proof, [Jamie Pontius-Hogan] said there is basically no wiggle room,” Harris reported from her conversation with the assistant dean of the Office of Judicial Affairs earlier that day. “It’s going to be preponderance of evidence…because without it, federal funding could be lost.”
While no senators strongly disputed the preponderance of evidence standard, several argued that due to the lowered standard of proof, the responding student ought to have strong procedural protections.
“I think with the lowering of the standard of proof, we would need six panel members,” said Senator Shahab Fadavi ’15, who has served as a reviewer in campus judicial proceedings involving honor code violations. “I would think that you would need to…increase the number of faculty members on that panel who are involved and more knowledgeable on sexual harassment cases in particular.”
In response to the argument that a smaller panel leads to increased privacy for both parties to a case, Fadavi said that all panels are required to keep cases confidential, and that adding a faculty member might insulate the information from the student body.
“Ultimately our goal is to make sure that…people who are…actually sexually assaulted…come forward, and, hopefully, the lower standard will do that,” he said. “But, at the same time, we would want to make sure that we don’t wrongly find anyone responsible, because that is also super important, if you consider the impact that this does have on a person’s future.”
“You need to be somewhat prepared for the slippery slope, for the worst case scenario,” Viraj Bindra ’15 said, echoing the sentiments of Law School student Elliott Wolf, who spoke to the senators at their May 1 meeting about his experience serving as student body president at Duke University in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 Duke lacrosse scandal. Bindra said that he was concerned with the unitary discretion of the investigator to reject evidence.
Sharma responded by repeating the caveat of Tessa Ormenyi ’14, an ARP reviewer, that responding students have, in the past, brought in irrelevant character witnesses just to delay a verdict or sanction. Sharma also argued that there would be logistical problems in allowing reviewers to determine relevancy because of their tendency to evaluate evidence they have heard, even if it has been ruled irrelevant.
When discussing a unanimous-versus-simple majority voting requirement, a gender divide of the Senate emerged, with Sharma, Harris, Kimberly Bacon ’15, Janhavi Vartak ’15 and Lauren Miller ’15 supporting the existing majority requirement, and Jack Weller ’15, Brandon Hightower ’15 and Ismael “Ish” Menjivar ’15 favoring a unanimous requirement. Fadavi ’15 was the only male senator to express support for maintaining the majority requirement.
The senators, several of whom said they felt that they did not know enough about the process or had not heard from enough experts to have a thorough and informed opinion, decided to invite several experts with varied stances to attend next week’s Senate meeting. In hopes of better representing their constituents, the senators also discussed methods of inviting and collecting student opinion about the ARP, including an open town hall debate, increased personal communication and the extension of anonymous forums for students intimidated by the idea of speaking at Senate meetings.