The ASSU Undergraduate Senate heard a two-hour series of opinions Tuesday from individuals involved with the debate on the Alternative Review Process (ARP), Stanford’s judicial procedure for cases involving sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment and stalking. Except for the regular funding bills, which passed unanimously, the senators did not pass any new legislation or present a revised budget for the upcoming fiscal year, following rejection of the proposed budget by the Graduate Student Council (GSC).
The senators had invited several involved students, faculty members and Judicial Affairs members to speak about the ARP to aid the senators in better understanding the involved issues.
Professor Michael McConnell, law professor and fellow at the Hoover Institute, explained his interpretation of the Office of Civil Rights’ Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the document that caused Stanford President John Hennessy to unilaterally lower the standard of proof from beyond a reasonable doubt to preponderance of evidence in April 2011. McConnell said that the American Association of University Professors opposes a burden of preponderance of evidence and endorses a clear and convincing standard. He added that both civil rights organizations and the federal government are currently debating the DCL’s legal status.
“Nothing is written in stone,” McConnell said. He told the senators that, because the ARP is currently in compliance with the DCL, they should be in no rush to approve the procedure.
He also expressed worry about a general diminution of the rights of the accused.
“The thing about the ARP is that it isn’t just one change,” he explained. “Any one individual aspect of it may actually be quite justifiable. But it is rather a cascade of changes, every one of which makes it more difficult for an innocent person to [defend themselves].”
In a similar vein, K.C. Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College, expressed over Skype his concern for the protections taken out of the ARP and cited a prevalence of false accusations.
Max Sosna-Spear ’12, who serves on ARP review panels, countered Johnson and McConnell’s explanation and defended the procedure’s existing provisions, including the panel size and majority voting requirement. He also argued that the prevalence of false accusations is much lower than Johnson posited.
“Certainly we increase the risk of false findings of responsibility,” Sosna-Spear said, “but precisely the point is that we are trying to shift the balance. Even with the ARP process, there are lots of people [who] aren’t coming forward. So I think there has to be some…weighing the likelihood of false responsibility and the very important interest of keeping this a safe community for all people.”
“As it stands, I think the University is suffering far more from unreported offenders than from innocent people who are being expelled from the University,” he added.
Refuting Sosna-Spear’s claim that responding students in the ARP almost always concede the facts but argue that their actions were not criminal, Timothy Lau J.D. ’12, a member of the Board of Judicial Affairs, reminded the senators of the possibility of misidentification and urged them to increase the voting requirement in order to compensate for the low burden of proof.
“The ARP process doesn’t just cover sexual assault; it covers sexual assault, sexual harassment, relationship violence and stalking,” he said. “To say that no misidentification is ever going to happen…I think you’re all making a stretch, and you are subjecting people to unfair accusations…If you do [ignore the problem of misidentification], are you really committed to the presumption of innocence?”
Elliott Wolf J.D. ’13, who served as president of the Duke student body immediately following the 2006 lacrosse team scandal, warned senators of the impact of what he termed the “student affairs industry” on processes such as the ARP.
Sosna-Spear said that he believes that all of the administrators involved in the ARP, excluding some faculty members who serve on panels, were trained in student affairs.
Reporting on his experience at Duke, Wolf said he found that a concentration of faculty members who saw themselves as educators rather than adjudicators led to increased bias, more false rulings and greater undeserved impact on student lives.
“Every school below the U.S. News top 10 is now infested with professional staff with master’s degrees in ‘student personnel administration,’” Wolf said. “And sadly, they are more interested in fostering ‘teachable moments’ with students than in dispassionately finding facts and meting out sanctions to serve as a deterrent.”
“There aren’t two sides to this; there are many sides,” Senator Shahab Fadavi ’15 said at the meeting’s commencement, reminding his peers to develop a nuanced understanding of the ARP. Although several senators asked questions about various aspects of the ARP, there was no discussion among them at the meeting.
Garima Sharma ’15 said that the Senate is planning to delay the approval of the ARP until fall quarter, which is when the procedure will be reviewed by the Faculty Senate.