Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 13, 2014

Stanford rules against expulsion in sexual-assault case

University rejects student's appeal of sanctions

by Elena Kadvany

Stanford University Wednesday afternoon ruled it will not expel a student found responsible for sexual assault, deciding instead to withhold his diploma for two years.

The student, a graduating senior, will be allowed to return in fall 2016 to attend graduate school at Stanford.

The decision, handed down by Vice Provost of Student Affairs Greg Boardman, rejects an appeal filed by senior Leah Francis, who sought tougher sanctions against the student found responsible for assaulting her off campus over winter break. At a rally last week attended by more than 300 students, she urged the administration to reconsider the sanctions it previously issued — a five-quarter suspension starting this summer, community-service hours and a sexual-assault education program — and to expel the male student, as well as reform the university's policy to make expulsion the default sanction in sexual-assault cases.

Boardman's ruling does not question the finding of responsibility handed down in April through the university's Alternate Review Process, a new disciplinary process set up to deal with allegations of misconduct relating to sexual assault, sexual harassment, relationship violence or stalking. The five-member panel in April had voted 4-1 for a finding of sexual assault, 5-0 for sexual misconduct and 5-0 for violating the university's Fundamental Standard, a policy that governs student behavior both within and outside of Stanford, according to Francis' appeal.

But factoring into Boardman's ruling against expulsion was the review panel's determination that the student, who has not been named, poses no danger to the Stanford community. The panel's finding was made in part due to the fact that Francis and the student had a previous dating relationship that had ended more than two years before the Jan. 1 assault, according to Wednesday's ruling.

Boardman opted to delay the conferral of the male student's bachelor's degree for two years to compensate for the harm the student caused Francis. But Boardman also rescinded the five-quarter suspension and the community-service hours.

"I hoped that the university would do the right thing," Francis said Wednesday. "It was so clearly laid out for them. Now I just feel like they don't care about me at all, not at all."

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who has been assisting Francis with the appeal process, described the ruling as "victim blaming" and said she does not agree with the outcome.

"He was found responsible for sexual assault through force ... an event that was very traumatic to the victim, through force, and yet, there is paradoxically a conclusion that he is not a threat to the Stanford community. That, to me, is an affront to every woman at Stanford and every victim of sexual assault at Stanford," Dauber said. "The inescapable inference of that is that the university blames her in substantial measure for the assault."

University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said Thursday that while she cannot comment on the case or the ruling, imposing expulsion as a default sanction "is going to be discussed as an option."

"I think there needs to be conversation with the students about what the ramifications of that would be," she said.

In a June 6 letter from Boardman to all students, he also said the university intends to discuss the option of presumptive expulsion, "not meaning that it would be applied to every case automatically but that it would be the starting point for the consideration of sanctions."

Expelling a student for sexual violence was proposed — and supported by the administration — when the university first drafted the Alternate Review Process, which was piloted starting in 2010 and officially approved in 2013. Students at the time strongly opposed the expulsion idea.

Francis went public with her story last week, alleging the investigation of her case has taken more than twice as long as the 60 days recommended under federal law and that the consequences imposed on her assailant fell short of his crime.

Stanford is required under Title IX to investigate and respond to any reports of sexual assault, regardless of whether or not there is a criminal proceeding.

"The goal of Stanford's investigation is not to determine whether a crime has been committed but whether University policy has been violated and, if so, what discipline is appropriate," the provost's office website states. A university investigation can also proceed if a criminal case ends, and the Title IX requirement to investigate applies regardless of whether an assault takes place on or off campus, "as students may experience the continuing effects of an off-campus incident while pursuing their studies back on campus."

Francis also filed a police report in January in the city where the assault took place. The case was investigated and passed to the local district attorney's office for further investigation, Dauber said.

Online Editor Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

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