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.

Despite administrators’ professed desire to improve the Ad Board, the policy change adopted last spring alienated many students on campus.

Student activists on campus, led by members of CASV, protested the policy in front of University Hall soon after it was passed.

Alexandra Neuhaus-Follini ’04-’06, a CASV member, says the Ellison Committee was biased and uninformed.

“It’s pretty telling that the Ellison Committee didn’t talk to a single student or a single community expert on sex assault issues,” Neuhaus-Follini says. “The three members are all current or former members of the Ad Board, and the only thing they brought to the table was what they knew about the Ad Board proceedings and not any background knowledge of sexual assault.”

But Professor of Romance Languages Kathleen Coleman, who served on the Ellison Committee, maintains that the committee recommended the change to make the likelihood of a resolution more clear to students early in the Ad Board process to “allow students to pursue other avenues of possible resolution more quickly” if it is clear that the Ad Board will not be able to resolve the case.


Fithian says he feels many of the students who were upset about the change misunderstand the threshold of “independent corroborating information” that is now required for a full investigation.

“Although we never said it,” Fithian says, “some students took that to mean either an eyewitness or a confession, and that is just flatly untrue.”

Fithian says he regrets that the administration did not make the content of the change and the process leading up to it more transparent to students.

“If we could do it over again we would take great pains to make sure people understood the process we’d gone through—and certainly what was proposed,” he says.


Two Boston lawyers have lampooned Harvard’s sexual assault policy in recent years—one on behalf of the alleged victims and the other on behalf of the accused.

Harvey A. Silverglate, who co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and has represented several students accused by peers in front of the Ad Board, applauds the change, calling an Ad Board investigation a “form of torture” that was unnecessarily inflicted on some accused students under the original policy.

Two years ago Silverglate represented an accused student in a sexual assault case before the Ad Board in which he says the subcommittee conducting the investigation did not interview witnesses who were crucial to prove his client’s innocence. Instead, he had to track down these witnesses and solicit statements from them himself.

“These witnesses turned the case from guilt to innocence,” Silverglate says. “I am highly confident that had the Ad Board acted on its own it would not have had the evidence that led to [the respondent’s] acquittal.”

While the Ad Board found his client not guilty of the charge, Silverglate—along with a professor who refuses to identify himself publicly—took his dissatisfaction with the process to the Faculty.