The Georgetown University Student Association senate voted unanimously Sunday to hold a student body-wide referendum regarding changes to the Code of Student Conduct’s evidentiary standard.
If passed, the referendum would not have the power to change the standard, which is currently set at “more likely than not.”
The bill is instead intended to demonstrate student support for the Disciplinary Review Committee’s proposal that the burden of proof be raised to “clear and convincing evidence” for all student disciplinary processes except those involving sexual assault.
The proposal is now awaiting approval from Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, who told The Hoya last week that he would delay his decision until the Office of Student Conduct had undergone an external review set for early this fall. According to GUSA senate Transition Chair Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), the bill was proposed in support of an open letter GUSA sent to Olson last week that urged him to expedite his approval of the change.
“[The delay] wasn’t acceptable to us, because the committee passed the recommendation in the spring. It’s very, very urgent. Every week we don’t pass this recommendation, more students are harmed by this flawed standard,” Tisa said.
The voting process will resemble that of the Student Activities Fee Endowment referendum, which was held last January; all students will receive an email with a link to an online ballot.
The text of the referendum urges a swift adoption of the stricter evidentiary standard. “The ‘more likely than not’ standard of evidence for disciplinary procedures has proven a disservice to students and enforcers alike,” it reads. “This change must be implemented with the utmost urgency.”
The referendum will be held on Sept. 27, concurrent with the external review and with the general elections for the GUSA senate.
Tisa pointed out that the date was specifically set in order to show the external auditors that students support the evidentiary standard change.
According to GUSA’s open letter to Olson, the Georgetown University Law Center and several peer universities, including Duke, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, use the “clear and convincing” standard.
GUSA senators expressed their support of the referendum and their disappointment with the university’s lack of action.
“The very frustrating disciplinary process we have here makes me feel we’re almost barbaric or archaic in a way,” senator Zach Singer (SFS ’15) said. “The fact [is] that it doesn’t look like you’re doing it, but you don’t have evidence to prove yourself innocent. … I find it incredibly ridiculous.”
The referendum must receive at least 2,000 votes to be considered valid. Of those votes, a majority must be affirmative for the proposal to pass.
Tisa stressed that the referendum result will not be a binding change to the university policy but will instead prove students’ support for the change.
“This is the most official action we can take,” Tisa said. “It’s meant to show people in the [Office of Student Conduct] that the student body isn’t going to forget about this. It’s not something that’s transitory or [will be] dropped. This is something that’s here to stay. We’re going to continue to pressure for this change.”
GUSA senator Jay Factor (COL ’14), however, expressed concern about the nonbinding nature of the referendum.
“If [they] pass it by whatever percentage, and then still nothing happens, thi s seems like students might get cynical towards GUSA, at least a little, in terms of being able to express our opinions any time, but we can’t do anything to change,” Factor said.
According to GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13), the Student Advocacy Office plans to collect testimonials from students who are willing to share their experiences with the Office of Student Conduct in the disciplinary process. The testimonials will then be presented to the auditors of the Code of Conduct Office.
Olson declined to comment on issues pertaining to the evidentiary standard at press time.