Burden of Proof

In a year when the Faculty voted to require more evidence before the Ad Board would investigate sexual assault complaints, the University itself has been forced to prove its case.

Jane took her case to the Ad Board last winter. Last spring the Ad Board found that there was not enough evidence to reach a clear resolution on the case.

Jane’s case is emblematic of the “he said, she said” cases that Lewis, in recommending the policy shift last spring, said the Ad Board did not have the investigative tools and know-how to solve.

Administrators say the Board saw a glut of sexual assault cases—and they were unable to reach a verdict in most of the cases.

In 2001, Lewis and former Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles tapped Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Peter T. Ellison to examine the Ad Board’s procedure for peer dispute cases out of a concern that students like Jane had unrealistic expectations in bringing sexual assault complaints to the Ad Board.

Under the old policy—which was in place when Jane’s case was heard—when a student brought a complaint against another student, a subcommittee was immediately appointed to gather evidence and conduct interviews. After this investigation, which for sexual assault cases typically lasted around three months, the full Ad Board would vote on the charge.


But under the policy advocated by the Ellison Committee—which the Faculty approved last spring—a subcommittee is not automatically appointed. Instead, both the complainant and then the respondent are required to submit to Fithian their version of the alleged incident and a list of witnesses that could corroborate their accounts. Fithian then asks those witnesses to submit statements.

After this initial investigation, Fithian presents the evidence to the chair of the Ad Board, who must choose whether to immediately send the case to a subcommittee for a full investigation. If he thinks it unlikely the Ad Board will come to a resolution in this case, the chair can ask the full Board to vote on whether a full investigation should be conducted. The Ad Board can then vote for a full investigation to be conducted, to dismiss the case or to defer it if there is a possibility that more evidence will be brought forward.

Fithian says he believes this procedure benefits all students involved in peer dispute cases by allowing both the accusing and the accused students to submit statements before the Ad Board decides whether to initiate an investigation—whereas before just the accused student’s statement set an investigation in motion.

“In a way what this procedural change was designed to do was to make the process by which we review complaints much more open and honest to complainants,” Fithian says.


Jane says she waited almost a year to bring a charge to the Ad Board because she had heard stories about its ineffectiveness and was hesitant to go through the process herself.

And once she made up her mind to take her case to the Ad Board, she says she was confronted at every turn with obstacles—unhelpful administrators, a drawn-out Ad Board process and accusatory questioning.

Jane says the policy requiring independent corroboration is a step in exactly the wrong direction. She doubts that her case would have been heard at all under the new rules.

Jane says that although her primary goal in submitting her complaint to the Ad Board was to have Dave removed from campus, she holds that going through the painful process of an Ad Board investigation is valuable, regardless of the outcome of the case.

“I pretty much knew from the beginning that nothing would happen, but I wanted to do it,” she says. “It’s about justice. I did it to be punitive and I did it for my own peace of mind.”