By Erin Woo
Stanford’s Judicial Charter, the document that governs the University’s disciplinary process for student conduct violations, was implemented in 1997 — the same year that many members of the Class of 2020 were born.
“The world has changed since then,” said Cat Sanchez ’19, a first-year sociology Ph.D. candidate who serves as the chair of the Board on Judicial Affairs (BJA), a body that oversees the University’s judicial process.
Now, Stanford has decided that the Judicial Charter may need to change, too.
To that end, the Judicial Charter Review Committee, also known as the Committee of 10 (C-10), has been tasked with evaluating whether changes are needed to the Fundamental Standard and the Honor Code, according to its official charges. If necessary, the committee will write a new Judicial Charter of 2020, to be implemented in the following academic year upon approval from the BJA, Undergraduate Senate, Graduate Student Council, Faculty Senate and president’s office.
The committee — composed of four students, four faculty and two staff — was jointly convened by the University, Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) and the Faculty Senate.
Although the committee has yet to meet, it has already drawn criticism from some students, primarily over concerns that it will recommend a lower standard of evidence in Office of Community Standards cases. The current standard is that evidence must be beyond a reasonable doubt for a student to be convicted.
The official charges task the committee with considering, among other topics, whether “beyond a reasonable doubt [is] an appropriate burden of proof” and whether “reducing potential sanctions would make a lower burden of proof more appropriate.”
According to Sam Schimmel ’22, an undergraduate Senator and former co-chair of the BJA, members of the BJA — in particular its former co-chair, management science and engineering professor Ross Shachter — have been strong advocates for a lower burden of proof.
“[Shachter] was very adamant from the day I joined the BJA that it was time to reduce the standard of evidence,” Schimmel said.
Sanchez denied that that was the case. Shachter declined to comment.
Schimmel resigned from the BJA after the board voted 14-0, with him abstaining, to remove him from his co-chair position in its Dec. 2 meeting. He said the BJA pushed him out after he “refused to go along with and vehemently objected to lowering the standard of evidence required to convict a student of wrongdoing.”
Sanchez disputed this account, saying instead that the BJA voted to remove him due to concerns over his communication skills and commitment to the position of co-chair.
“In no way are we pushing for a lowered standard of evidence,” she said.
In an interview with The Daily, Sanchez emphasized that lowering the standard of evidence is only one of many issues that the committee will be studying, including simplifying the language of the proceedings to benefit students who are not native English speakers and utilizing more informal resolutions such as restorative justice.
ASSU Executives Erica Scott ’20 and Isaiah Drummond ’20 also wrote in an email to the Stanford community that examining the burden of proof was only one aspect of the work of the committee, which “is intended to broadly consider the judicial process in its entirety.”
“Because the burden of proof is a central aspect of this process, it is natural that the committee should discuss it during its review of the Judicial Charter,” they wrote.
However, Sanchez confirmed that the BJA has discussed lowering the burden of proof in conjunction with introducing bracketed sentencing, under which lesser offenses would receive lesser consequences.
As the system stands, she said, members of the BJA have raised concerns about cases where the evidence does not meet the burden of proof, meaning that the case is then thrown out.
“If you’re looking at the student conduct process as an educative and not purely punitive system, you would not want to lose those cases because potentially those are students who are either unaware that what they’re doing could be construed as cheating or violating the Honor Code in some way,” Sanchez said. “In a lot of cases, there are students who are experiencing things that lead them to do stuff that could be construed as cheating. Those are cases that we want to address.”
Additionally, faculty on the BJA have argued that the prospect cases will be thrown out discourages faculty and teaching assistants from reporting potential Honor Code violations, both Schimmel and Sanchez said. One of the charges of the C-10 is to “alleviate” barriers to faculty reporting.
However, some students have raised concerns that reducing the standard of evidence could lead to wrongful convictions.
Last quarter, campus publication The Fountain Hopper called the charges a “surreptitious erosion of student rights” and argued that “if implemented, these changes would almost certainly result in more students being found guilty on flimsier evidence.”
In the Jan. 14 Senate meeting, Schimmel introduced a resolution that would issue a preemptive veto to any change to the Fundamental Standard, Honor Code or Judicial Charter that would “lower the standard of evidence required to convict a student of wrongdoing.” The resolution would also commit the Senate to revoking its ratification of the Judicial Charter of 1997 if the Senate received a recommendation from any University body to lower the standard of evidence.
“The Undergraduate Senate firmly believes the current standard of evidence for Honor Code and Fundamental Standard violations, beyond a reasonable doubt, is critical to ensuring to the fair, honest and unbiased pursuit of justice at Stanford University,” the resolution states.
Sanchez argued at the meeting that such a resolution could backfire, leading to the loss of student input on the Judicial Charter.
“There is a part here to dissolve the charter entirely,” she said. “But if that happens, then the school can do whatever it wants, and there would be no student input in the [conduct] process.”
After Sanchez spoke, Schimmel’s co-sponsor Senator Micheal Brown ’22 withdrew his support for the bill.
Last November, Schimmel — at the time, still co-chair of the BJA — had been slated to serve as the Senate’s representative to the C-10, triggering concern from Sanchez, Scott and Drummond about whether one person should have simultaneous voting power on all three bodies.
At the time, there was no specific prohibition on members of the BJA serving on C-10, according to emails provided by Scott. But out of concerns over a potential conflict of interest, Schimmel initially agreed at the end of November to step down from the C-10. After resigning from the BJA, however, he informed Scott that he intended to stay on the C-10.
Now, at Tuesday’s Senate meeting, Senators intend to vote again on their representative to the C-10. According to Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22, the vote does not mean that Schimmel has been removed from his position.
“At the time, no one else had expressed interest, but some senators expressed interest in serving and since it has not been formally convening yet, we are just having a new election,” Alimire wrote.
In addition to the Senate representative, the other students on the committee are second-year law student Chris Middleton, representing the Graduate Student Council, and undergraduates Cyrus Reza ’20 and David Pantera ’21, both chosen through the Nominations Commission after an open call to the student body.
Contact Erin Woo at erinkwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.