The Georgetown University Student Association urged Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson to approve changes to the Code of Student Conduct’s evidentiary standard in an open letter sent Sept. 5.
Last spring, the Disciplinary Review Committee, which is composed of students, student affairs administrators and university faculty, passed a resolution recommending that the burden of proof for all disciplinary actions be raised from the current standard of “more likely than not” to “clear andconvincing.”
“The [student conduct] system appears unpredictable and opaque, and few students view their interactions with the Office of Student Conduct as a learning experience. More specifically, many students have noted that the ‘more likely than not’ standard is inherently arbitrary in that it allows for a significant degree of uncertainty and individual error in the Code of [Student] Conduct judicial process,” the letter read.
Current policy rules that a student will be found responsible for a disciplinary violation if the arbitrator believes the student was “more likely than not” responsible for the transgression. The new standard would demand a higher level of certainty from the adjudicator and would apply to all violations of the Code of Student Conduct, except incidents of sexual assault, for which the U.S. Department of Education mandates a “more likely than not” burden of proof.
After the DRC passed the recommendation, GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) posted an idea on the h.Roundtables IdeaScale site, urging students to support the recommendation.
The idea garnered 346 votes and elicited a response from Olson.
He said that the issue required careful consideration because the DoE requires a “preponderance of evidence” standard for sexual assault cases.
“I appreciate everyone’s comments on this important issue. I want you to know that this is a complex issue, on which the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has recently issued guidance,” Olson wrote in response to Gustafson’s IdeaScale post last year.
In response to Olson’s concern, the open letter stressed that the DRC’s recommendation would still maintain the “preponderance of evidence” standard for sexual assault cases.
According to GUSA Chief of Staff Jake Sticka (COL ’13), GUSA and Olson maintained ongoing conversations throughout the summer.
“[In] the initial weeks, he said that he was doing fact-finding, trying to figure out what peer universities were doing and whether or not this would be a good move for Georgetown,” Sticka said. “From May through July, we had several conversations with [Olson] about it. Throughout that time, he said he was considering it and still was personally conflicted and didn’t know how he felt about it.”
Gustafson said that in the end of July, the Office of Student Conduct decided to invite other universities to conduct an external review of the office to take place at the end of September. The review will include the examination of the Division of Student Affairs and its staff and the Code of Student Conduct.
Gustafson said she was not sure if the external review was prompted by the DRC’s recommendation or if it was merely routine. However, she indicated that the review will likely delay Olson’s decision.
“Now Dr. Olson is talking about how he will wait until after the review is over and … the reviewers have turned in their report, which we suspect won’t be until January or the end of December,” Gustafson said.
Sticka explained that Olson believes a review of the entire office will allow him to examine the change of the burden of proof standard in a more holistic manner. But Sticka pointed out that the DRC has already conducted extensive research and undergone rigorous discussion on the change.
“I think some elements of the conduct office certainly could benefit from a holistic review, but clearly, this standard isn’t one of those things that is necessary for a review,” Sticka said.
Olson said he wants to have the standard addressed during the external review.
“I take the recommendations of the Disciplinary Review Committee seriously and am thoughtfully reviewing this issue. As we are holding an external review of the Office of Student Conduct and related policies later this month, I have decided to add this issue to the set of issues on which the reviewers will advise us,” Olson wrote in an email.
Both Gustafson and Sticka expressed disappointment about Olson’s delayed decision, especially when compared to the speed at which the Code of Student Conduct was changed this summer as a result of 2010 Campus Plan negotiations.
“We saw a lot of changes made to the … Code of [Student] Conduct coming out of the campus plan in a process that students were not involved in,” Sticka said. “It’s discouraging to see that ad hoc process take precedence over a longstanding committee that has looked at this issue for a long time, especially considering [that] there were no students involved and there were students involved in the DRC.”
According to Sticka, students and faculty expressed concerns about the lack of movement on the issue since the recommendation was first made in April.
“I think it’s our hope that the letter will convey to [Olson] the seriousness with which the students have looked at this issue and also convey to him the degree to which [GUSA] and other campus organizations are really willing to push for this,” Sticka said.
Olson said he will wait until after the review to make his decision.