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Letter to the community from the Board of Judicial Affairs

By

In light of current events and ongoing conversations on campus, we, the student members of the Board on Judicial Affairs (BJA), would like to offer some clarification around why the BJA has pushed for and supported the formation of the 2019 Judicial Charter Committee of Ten (C-10).

For context, the BJA is a University board comprised of students (both undergraduate and graduate), faculty and staff overseeing all aspects of judicial affairs on campus under our current Judicial Charter. Per the Charter, the BJA has exclusive power to adopt or modify bylaws specifying policies and procedures pertaining to judicial affairs. While the BJA has done our best to address the issues that have come to our attention over the last two decades, we feel there is now a need for a full and formal review of not only the Judicial Charter (from 1997), but the Honor Code (written by students in 1921), the Fundamental Standard (from 1896) and our entire judicial process, which is what the C-10 has been charged with carrying out. We believe that our current system does not sufficiently address contemporary education culture—for example, ubiquitous internet access, which contributes to the environments where violations occur.

What’s more, our current system relies on community members to bring possible Fundamental Standard or Honor Code violations to the Office of Community Standards (OCS). Yet, a 2016-2017 student and faculty survey conducted by the BJA reflected a number of shortcomings with this system. Currently, there are several possible outcomes for concerns referred to OCS: they may be dropped or forwarded to another office (e.g., Office of Alcohol Policy and Education) or, in cases that are charged, the student may accept responsibility and choose the Early Resolution Option, or—in fewer than 15% of cases filed (in the last five academic years with available data)—the matter moves to a Judicial Panel (with six members, four of which are students). After hearing the case, the Panel then decides whether a violation has occurred and what sanction(s) are appropriate (with the standard sanction being a one-quarter suspension and 40 hours of community service for a first-time Honor Code violation). In our survey, 95% of student respondents felt the standard sanction was too punitive. These surveys also reflected that a majority of students and faculty who learn of a potential violation chose not to report. Their reasoning reflected a host of concerns that deserve to be addressed in a comprehensive review, including: uncertainty on what constitutes a violation; belief that the violation was minor; unfamiliarity with the OCS office; or concern over the long-term impact it could have on a student’s future. We, as a whole community, need to both understand and actively, willingly engage with our judicial process for it to function effectively. Simply put, we need a Charter that has the entire community’s buy-in.

Students, faculty and staff have legitimate concerns about whether this system is as clear and simple or as equitable as it could be, or adequately prepared to meet our current (and future) needs. The BJA shares these concerns. In coordination with OCS, we have long advocated for a formal review of our judicial system and brought these issues before the Faculty Senate last winter (2018-19), presenting why the judicial system—including the documents that govern it—needs a thorough and holistic review rather than one-off bylaw changes. This fall, the Vice Provost of Student Affairs, the Chair of the Faculty Senate and the ASSU executives announced the C-10 was being formed to directly address these concerns. While the proposed timeline for the C-10 aims for a resolution by spring 2021, our main goal is ensuring that this review is inclusive, thorough and comprehensive, incorporating the voices of all relevant parties. What’s most important is to get this right.

For the C-10’s review, the BJA has a number of important points that we are recommending be addressed (and which we will work with the C-10 to ensure are addressed), ranging from exam proctoring, to the uniform standard sanction, to how long violations should stay on a student’s record. We also have numerous suggestions we plan to bring to the C-10 for their consideration, including:

  • selection by each frosh dorm of a resident to serve as their Judicial Panel Pool representative and act as an informed resource to their co-residents; 
  • expanding on consistent, centralized training for faculty and TAs on OCS procedures; 
  • recommendations and guidance for faculty on explaining the Honor Code within the context of different types of assignments, class structures and disciplines; and
  • mandated recurring reviews of the judicial process.

The BJA has been charged with reviewing these kinds of concerns, and we have. It is with our support and enthusiasm that the C-10 is charged with suggesting revisions for the kinds of changes that can benefit our entire community.

Whatever shape the new Charter takes, it may be in place for quite some time. To that end, channeling your powerful voices toward sharing the ideas and concerns you have about these documents, processes and their implementation within our Stanford community will be incredibly important. This means also taking the time to familiarize yourselves with: the Fundamental Standard, Honor Code and Judicial Charter, the judicial process and perhaps the results from the survey (and lively commentary) included in the Faculty Senate meeting minutes.

We urge the student body to come forward with their concerns, thoughts and suggestions. While the BJA is always open to community member comments, we will be hosting our annual open forum soon and invite you to bring your thoughts (sign up to be updated at: https://tinyurl.com/BJA2020). We have asked and the C-10 has been charged to host town halls and/or use other formats for students and community members to give feedback about what kind of judicial system we want to be a part of.

In sum, the student members of the BJA call on all students to be active, informed participants in creating a system that is reflective of our community values. Our current Judicial Charter and judicial processes were developed by a strong community of vocal and involved students, and we hope you will help us continue this tradition.

Sincerely,

Catherine Sanchez, Sociology (graduate), chair

Jamie Fine, Modern Thought and Literature (graduate)

Natalie Geise, Chemistry (graduate)

Sarah Johnson, Mechanical Engineering (graduate)

Ismail Liban, Chemistry (undergraduate)

Mark Vander Ploeg, Master of Liberal Arts (graduate)