Despite Improvements, Issues Remain With Sexual Assault Procedures

Part II in a IV Part Series

(Part I, Part III, and Part IV of this story appeared on April 30, May 5, and May 7, 2010.)

The Administrative Board’s sexual assault policy is a series of paradoxes.

While the Ad Board—the College’s primary disciplinary body—is not charged with upholding state law, its definition of sexual assault nearly mirrors state policy.

Lawyers are not welcome in the process, except when they are hired by the College to collect evidence for cases.

Administrators say the Ad Board’s primary mission is to help students learn from their mistakes, but the board can also dole out punishments as severe as required withdrawal or suggest the Faculty Council dismiss a student.

Unwrapping these apparent contradictions can be challenging for both board members and outsiders. Criticisms of the Ad Board’s handling of sexual assault cases run the gamut: for example, many would like to see more sexual assault cases end more frequently with decisive rulings, others complain that the board deprives the accused of due process.

Despite the perpetual criticisms and the complexities of the Ad Board process, many individuals involved with the board say that the way it handles sexual assault cases has seen marked improvement since the 2003 Leaning Committee—tasked with re-evaluating how the Ad Board handles sexual assault cases—recommended the regular use of independent fact-finders and the creation of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

While using fact finders has solved some of the issues with the Ad board’s sexual assault policies, many believe there are still fundamental flaws in the adjudication process that need to be addressed.

A PROFESSIONAL SOLUTION

During their review of the Ad Board’s procedures, the Leaning Committee found that many students involved in the process felt that the board “was not doing a sufficiently comprehensive or timely job” in dealing with cases of sexual assault, according to Jennifer Leaning, a human rights professor and chair of the committee.

“Months would go by, which is a long time to be in limbo about something that you felt was an egregious wrong,” Leaning says about the students coping with the gaps between different steps in the process.

Moreover, Leaning says the lengthy proceedings often ended with inconclusive findings, namely the “take no action” ruling in which the Ad Board declares it does not have enough evidence to decide the case.

Prior to the inclusion of fact-finders in the process, members of the Ad Board—comprised of administrators and faculty members—were responsible for interviewing witnesses, collecting statements, and collating evidence, according to John “Jay” L. Ellison, associate dean of the College and the secretary of the Ad Board.

In the past, sexual assault cases took up to nine months to complete, Ellison says.

“Members of the board are not able to devote 100 percent of their time to this, and they had to balance many committee members’ schedules to meet with students,” he says.

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