Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 6, 2014

Expelling students for sexual violence has been proposed before

Societal changes are putting pressure on Stanford's policies, law professor says

by Elena Kadvany

A Stanford University student's call this week for more severe punishment by administrators of students found responsible for sexual assault is not new.

But ironically, according to Stanford Law School Professor Michele Dauber, it was most recently the students, not administrators, who opposed stricter measures.

Dauber — who has been advising Leah Francis, a senior who recently appealed the university's sanctions against a student who assaulted her — has long fought for a policy under which students would be expelled for sexual assault, she said.

While the university was drafting its Alternate Review Process — a relatively new disciplinary procedure designated for serious allegations of misconduct relating to sexual assault, sexual harassment, relationship violence or stalking — she and many others supported making expulsion the default sanction, she said.

However, students at the time strongly opposed the proposal, she said.

"That doesn't mean we aren't still supposed to do the right thing, but I still say, in fairness to the university, the student government of (2012) is responsible for the fact that (suspension) is now the sanction," she said.

Dauber characterized Stanford's initial efforts to reform its sexual-assault policies in 2010 as "liberal and progressive."

However, there is now a disconnect between those practices and a growing demand on campuses across the nation for more stringent punishment of sexual assault.

"There is a lag, basically, between the pattern that we've had in the past and the cultural view in universities toward expulsion in the past and what you see in the present," she said. "We haven't caught up yet with the social change that is underway."

Dauber said sanctioning for sexual assault at many universities has been informed, inappropriately, by the penalty for the most common instance of student misconduct: plagiarism. Student disciplinary processes, thus, are designed to deal with cheating and to protect a "less powerful" student from a "powerful faculty accuser," Dauber said. Expulsion in plagiarism cases is viewed as a punishment reserved for the "worst of the worst" and not for first offenses, Dauber added.

"However, when you take that very sensible, very appropriate approach to cheating and then you drop rape into the middle of it, what you find is a real reluctance to expel, a cultural resistance to the idea of expulsion because the sanction of first resort that is cultural to Stanford and also cultural to Brown (University) and all these other schools too (is that) universities don't like to expel students for a first violation."

Dauber said that, historically, Stanford's practice has been to suspend assailants until the victim is no longer on campus. Dauber said the typical sanction for sexual assault is a four-quarter suspension and can often include other restrictions such as housing bans, education requirements and community service.

Between 2005 and 2011, one student was expelled in a case that involved multiple victims and violations, she said. Eight other cases resulted in suspensions of one to eight quarters.

Dauber, who is assisting Francis with her appeal, indicated she thinks Stanford is open to changing its policy.

"I think the university is receptive to the idea of making expulsion the default sanction in cases of sexual assault, but I think that the speed with which the change is happening nationally has caught the university somewhat flat-footed, and it has failed to adjust."

The university did recently hire a new Title IX coordinator, Catherine Criswell, who during a 19-year tenure at the Office for Civil Rights was involved with conducting and overseeing Title IX sexual harassment investigations.

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