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Editorial Board: Stanford should not prioritize its image over its students

Editorial Board: Stanford should not prioritize its image over its students

This has been one of the most eventful Dead Weeks during our time at this university, and the decisions made by the administration in the past few days have left us asking if Stanford cares at all about its students, our well-being or the issues that matter to us.

On Monday, a female graduate student filed a civil lawsuit against Stanford, charging the University with mishandling sexual assault cases, and the University released a public statement in response on Thursday. On Friday, we learned that the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band has been suspended from all activities through spring quarter and effectively dismantled, to be reformulated minus all of the things that make Band Band. Later that evening, after sending out admissions decisions, the University announced — with little explanation — that it will no longer be releasing early admissions statistics.

While these issues are not all equal in significance, Stanford’s handling of all three incidents seems to demonstrate a clear prioritization of the University’s image over the well-being of its students.

Stanford responds to sexual assault mishandling lawsuit: Thursday, Dec. 8 around 10 p.m.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday, a female graduate student alleged that the University mishandled complaints that she and three other women had been sexually and physically assaulted by the same male Stanford student. The University released a public statement in response to the lawsuit that included an unprecedented amount of detail surrounding not only the plaintiff’s Title IX case but also the other women’s reports of sexual misconduct.

Under FERPA, the University has long refused to provide any information about specific sexual misconduct or assault cases or the ways they have been handled. Yet in this case, given the plaintiff’s allegations about her own situation and “the complexity of the allegations in the Complaint,” the University chose to publicize a detailed report “to provide the basis for [its statement’s] specific denials and affirmative defenses.” Stanford News published the report under the title “Information for the Stanford Community about Jane Doe Lawsuit.”

Yet, when the statement publicly advertised by the University includes details such as “Mr. X demanded that Plaintiff give him oral sex” and “[Mr. X] was upset, and eventually [Plaintiff] went over to him and began to stroke his face,” it’s hard to see the statement as a step toward productive transparency or to understand why that level of detail is necessary for the benefit of the Stanford community. While the response to an allegation filed in court may be nominally public, the University’s choice to publish such extensive, personal detail instead of an abridged version on its own widely accessed site seems insensitive to the survivors of these alleged assaults.

Rather than addressing the problem of how it handles sexual assault, Stanford instead seems willing to protect its own image at all costs – even at the risk of endangering the well-being of the students and alumni involved in the case. While the University refuses to release information on issues ranging from admissions to the formation of its alcohol policy, it is, ironically, willing to share the sordid details of a student’s sexual assault case for the sake of winning a lawsuit.

Stanford issues a public statement suspending Band: Friday, Dec. 9 around 4 p.m.

On Friday, Stanford released a public statement suspending all Band activities through the remainder of this academic year. After having been under alcohol probation and a travel ban since May 2015, the Band was found to have violated “university alcohol, Title IX and organizational conduct policies.”

The timing of the announcement reflects a complete disregard for the students in Band. Members were asked to start clearing out items from Band Shak on Friday of Dead Week, a time that administrators are well aware is one of high stress. In the midst of preparing for finals, students have been grieving the loss of a community, as indicated in posts on social media.

As with the hard alcohol policy and the postponement of (and alterations to) Full Moon on the Quad, the University’s decision on the Band is impossible to separate from recent negative press surrounding its sexual assault policies, given the University’s censorship of the Band’s more raunchy traditions. Though the University has denied any such connection, this perception is widespread, and we find it concerning that the University has chosen to ignore it rather than engage with students and share actual progress made in reforming its procedures and policies regarding sexual assault.

Instead, Stanford has turned its attention to eroding the student-defined, “wacky” culture of the University. Curiously, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman claims to still want to maintain Band’s “irreverence” while citing the Organization Conduct Board’s (OCB) charge of “disregard for university policy and administrative directives” as the core reason leading up to the suspension.

Whether the timing of the Band announcement was meant to overshadow the news of the lawsuit or whether the University genuinely believes that Band’s suspension will sanitize its image with regards to the negative press surrounding its sexual assault policies, the decision certainly did not have students in mind.

Stanford withholds early admissions statistics: Friday, Dec. 9 around 9:30 p.m.

The University reversed course on another tradition on Friday when it declined to release early admissions statistics for the Class of 2021. Stanford provided no explanation for the decision, and in an email to The Daily, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw explicitly stated, “This is not a policy change,” emphasizing that releasing numbers to The Daily in the past has been “exceptional.”

Yet, with Stanford News also having released reports on early admissions numbers for the classes of 2017-20, calling this year’s silence consistent seems less than honest. In addition, the lack of early admissions data produces no clear benefits, besides protecting the University’s image. The topic of the increasing exclusivity of “elite” schools like Stanford has sparked valuable public debate about whether or not universities should celebrate their selectivity.

Although the change in admissions data policy is hardly a story when compared with the sexual assault lawsuit and the Band statement, all three events are indicative of a larger issue: the University administration’s hypersensitivity to issues involving its public brand, often resulting in a complete disregard for the well-being of its students.

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Last year, the Daily’s Editorial Board called for greater transparency from the administration. But we have continued to see top-down administrative decisions and a lack of consideration for students. Instead of providing real transparency into issues and decisions that students care about, the University has chosen to be “open” about the wrong things: the results of inaccessible administrative decisions, to which students are given little opportunity to respond, and the details of the personal lives of victims of sexual assault.

We don’t know why the University decided to release the Band decision during Dead Week or why early admission numbers weren’t publicized. Perhaps Stanford has a reason for publicizing copious personal details about the Title IX cases involved in Monday’s lawsuit. Or maybe both public statements were the University’s way of responding to the 38th edition of the Fountain Hopper, the Stanford-centered email newsletter that, while sometimes sensational and tabloid-esque, often shares our motives in keeping the University accountable.

Stanford needs to address its problems directly and respond in straightforward terms to the student body. Regardless of the reasoning behind its administrative decisions, the University can’t continue throwing press releases at the issues in a less than candid attempt to maintain its brand. If Stanford really cares about its students, an entire student community wouldn’t be grieving the weekend before finals, and affected parties in sexual assault and misconduct cases would not be publicly targeted by the University.

So even though The Daily’s Editorial Board has tried before, we’re going to try again. This is our appeal to new and incoming leadership, to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and to incoming Provost Persis Drell: Show us that our voices matter. So many of us came to Stanford for its unconventionality, the brilliant irreverence of its community. Over the past year, more and more, those qualities have felt unwelcome, that community ignored and hollowed out. We don’t see the decisions and statements of this past week as just poorly thought out or tone-deaf — to this Editorial Board and many others in the student body, these actions stand in direct opposition to the culture of a university we want to call home.

— Vol. 250 Editorial Board

About Vol. 250 Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Kylie Jue '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinion Michael Gioia '17, Head Copy Editor Stephanie Chen '18 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at eic@stanforddaily.com.