By Kurt Chirbas
Ben Holston ‘15, chair of the ASSU Undergraduate Senate, backed away from his claims made at last week’s senate meeting that the Board of Judicial Affairs (BJA) added eight new bylaws to the Student Judicial Charter of 1997 over the summer without properly soliciting student input.
The Undergraduate Senate plans to take up a bill that would overrule the adoption of the new bylaws at tonight’s senate meeting.
“They didn’t technically break any rules,” Holston said, referring to the board members who voted last spring to adopt the new bylaws.
However, some students and ASSU officials argue the incident still highlights a lack of accountability and transparency in the University’s judicial affairs process.
The BJA is a 15-member committee composed of Stanford students, faculty and staff. It has the power to adopt or modify bylaws that specify policies and procedures pertaining to the University’s judicial affairs process.
The Office of Community Standards (OCS) is then responsible for carrying out these policies and procedures.
At the board’s May 21 and June 4 meetings, members voted to adopt the first new bylaws in more than eight years, according to Jonathan York ‘13, student co-chair at the time. The new bylaws altered the language concerning the charging standard, pre-hearing evidentiary consideration and raising evidentiary concerns during a hearing.
“We wanted to take what was the practice of the office, and just put it in black-and-white and into the text of document,” York said.
In accordance with its governing document—the Student Judicial Charter of 1997 –the board, through Koren Bakkegard, associate dean and director of the OSC, sent an email to six individuals notifying them of the approved changes. The message was sent on June 11 to the University President, the Faculty Senate Chair, the ASSU President, the Undergraduate Senate Chair and the two Graduate Student Council Co-Chairs.
The email stated: “Please find attached a memo and related documents that I am sending you on behalf of Michele Dauber and Jonathan York, the faculty and student Co-Chairs of the Board on Judicial Affairs.”
Two of the attachments were named “BJA Memo Re Proposed Bylaws” and “Proposed Honor Code Interpretations.”
Holston and ASSU President Billy Gallagher ‘14 both admitted they initially did not have much time to analyze the attachments given that it was finals week. This led Holston to misinterpret the purpose of the email.
“The Senate was out of session, and it was during finals week—I had my last final the next day,” Holston said. “I thought it was just a proposal, and that we would hear about it later, whatever it would turn into.”
In fact, the second paragraph of the first attachment stated that the bylaws were adopted.
But on Sept. 25, Bakkagard sent another email reiterating the adoption of the bylaws. She added that, according to the Student Judicial Charter of 1997, the Undergraduate Senate and the GSC had the power to overrule the bylaws at any time.
“Honestly, she probably didn’t have to [send the second email] because she had already sent the one on June 11,” Holston said.
According to Holston, it was Paul Harold J.D. ‘14, parliamentarian of GSC, who was confused with this process and decided to draft a bill to overrule the changes.
The incident gained greater significance this past week when Reid Spitz ‘14 and San Diego-based attorney Bob Ottilie ‘77 released a packet of 23 testimonials from students, their parents and their legal counsel, about their experience with OCS. The testimonials claim that the University’s judicial process remains implicitly slanted toward finding respondents guilty, despite claims from OCS that these issues have been resolved following an Internal Review Panel that began in the fall 2010.
Spitz and Ottilie advocated for an overrule of these bylaw changes, with the former writing in an Oct. 15 email to ASSU officials: “Our position, for now, is that the senate overrule the amendments until such a time when the community can have an informed debate on the matter.”
They argued the changes were made behind “closed doors without any input from the community,” and said the Board of Judicial Affairs should strive for more transparency and student involvement.
In particular, Ottilie said University officials have not responded to his repeated requests for information about the times and locations of the board meetings.
Current BJA co-chair Miles Seiver ‘14, who met with the parliamentarians from the Undergraduate Senate and GSC this week, said he supports the legislative bodies using their veto power, but hopes the officials “would consider each of bylaws on its merits before exercising their veto.”
Contact Kurt Chirbas at kchirbas ‘at’ stanford.edu.