GUSA implores Todd Olson to accept “clear and convincing” standard
On Wednesday, the Georgetown University Student Association sent an open letter to Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson pushing him to accept the Disciplinary Review Committee’s proposal to raise the Code of Conduct standard from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing.”
“Our goal with the letter to Dr. Olson was to, hopefully, speed a favorable decision on clear and convincing. The Disciplinary Review Committee’s recommendations should be taken seriously on student code of conduct, since it involves a team of administrators, staff, faculty and students,” Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) wrote in an email to Vox. “In the past Dr. Olson’s signing off on a recommendation has been merely a matter of process and not a means to delay a recommendation from being implemented. We are looking forward to a positive culmination of what has been a lengthy process.”
In the letter, GUSA emphasizes the struggle students have with the student conduct process. “In general, the system appears unpredictable and opaque, and few students view their interactions with the Office of Student Conduct as a learning experience,” the letter read. The letter also pointed out that the Georgetown University Law Center uses the “clear and convincing” standard, as do other prominent universities (Duke University, Cornell University, and University of Pennsylvania).
At the end of last semester, GUSA unanimously passed a resolution in support of raising the burden of proof standard. However, with the new semester back in swing, Olson has not shown any signs that he will accept the standard. In late April, Olson responded saying he would seriously consider the recommendation.
Olson arranged an “external review” for late September to examine both the Code of Student Conduct and the Division of Student Affairs and its staff. He plans to delay his decision until after this review takes place.
Full text of the letter to Olson after the jump!
Dear Dr. Olson,
As members of the campus community that are knowledgeable about the disciplinary process, we urge you to accept, without further delay, the Disciplinary Review Committee’s (DRC) recommendation that the Student Code of Conduct evidentiary standard be raised from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing.” Adopting this change will improve the lives of students and the broader Georgetown community by making the disciplinary process more fair and more consistent with the university’s mission.
During our time on the Hilltop, we heard many students express deep frustrations with student conduct processes. In general, the 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 is allows for a significant degree of uncertainty and individual error in the Code of Conduct judicial process. As a university, Georgetown strives to have all its processes be as educational as possible for its students. It is our belief that accepting a more stringent evidentiary standard is in keeping with this goal.
Our confidence in adaptation of this standard being the proper action is bolstered by a review of peer institutions. Duke, Cornell, and Penn all use the “clear and convincing” standard as does the Georgetown University Law Center. Additionally, while we understand that you expressed concern about the heightened evidentiary standard for sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, we remind you that the DRC’s recommendation would still maintain the “preponderance of evidence” standard for those cases, in keeping with U.S. Department of Education’s directive.
Beyond the practical rationale for this change, we are concerned about the procedural implications of not approving the new standard. As you know, the DRC is composed of minorities of students, faculty, staff and administrators so that the decisions made by it are representative of the entire campus community. In the case of the recommendation at hand, the DRC considered the Student Code of Conduct in a holistic manner for the length of a semester that included many hours of meetings and ultimately decided on “clear and convincing” as a more appropriate standard. Considering that such work has already been completed, the use of the external review, at least with regards to this policy specifically, seems superfluous. Furthermore, to accept changes to the Code resulting from the 2010 Campus Plan negotiation process that students were excluded from while not accepting duly-considered changes recommended by the DRC fails to uphold students as the fundamental element of the community that they are and undermines the importance of the work done by the DRC.