News

Stanford task force recommends expulsion as 'expected' sanction for sexual assault

Long-awaited report includes proposals for policy reform, education

A Stanford University task force charged with reviewing and issuing recommendations on sexual-assault policies and procedures is recommending a policy change still seen as radical for many colleges — that any student found responsible for sexual assault be expelled.

This recommendation is one of many in a long-awaited report, released Wednesday, by an 18-member group of faculty, staff, students and one alumni who Provost John Etchemendy asked last summer to make recommendations in three areas: education and prevention; the support and response provided to students in the wake of an incident of sexual violence; and the policies and procedures to investigate and adjudicate cases of sexual violence.

But the most-anticipated recommendation for many student activists and survivors of sexual assault, both at Stanford and on other college campuses across the country, might be moving to expulsion as the "expected" consequence for sexual assault, as long as a three-member review panel unanimously finds the accused student responsible for such an act, the task force suggests.

The recommendation comes almost a year after Stanford students rallied around student Leah Francis, who publicly challenged the university after a fellow student found responsible for sexually assaulting her was not expelled, demanding at fierce campus protests that the university shift to this tougher sanction.

"If a student is found responsible for what can be understood to be an egregious violation of university policy, the expected sanction in such a case should be permanent separation from the university — expulsion," the report reads. "Sexual assault is an example of such an egregious violation."

In a Q&A with the co-chairs of the provost's task force, Stanford Law School Dean Elizabeth Magill points to the definition of sexual assault under university policy as rationale for the new tougher sanction: "sex without consent through violence, force, menace or duress, or by causing someone to be incapacitated or taking advantage of someone who is incapacitated – where incapacity is defined narrowly to be, essentially, where the affected party does not know what is going on around them."

"One does not accidentally do this," Magill said.

Though expulsion is the expected penalty, it is not the inevitable sanction.

"We also believe any policy should have some flexibility to anticipate unexpected circumstances that may arise," Magill added, "and that is why it is the 'expected' sanction."

The task force recommends that after the review panel determines that a student is responsible for violating university policy – which must be a unanimous decision – the panel should begin its consideration of possible consequences with the most serious sanction – expulsion – and only then consider lesser sanctions. The panel could also be tasked with creating sanctioning guidelines for certain kinds of violations to provide more consistency and better "guidance on how to determine proportionate and effective sanctions."

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, a staunch sexual-assault advocate deeply involved in the drafting of the university's current adjudication process, called the expectation of expulsion the "most important recommendation in the report."

"This is a big step forward, and I commend in particular the incredible effort of ASSU executive and task force co-chair Elizabeth Woodson for her achievement in bringing out this recommendation," Dauber said Wednesday.

ASSU executive and senior Benjy Mercer-Golden, who also served on the task force, said he was glad to see the report align with a policy that student government has been pushing for over the last year.

"Sexual assault seems to me to be the ultimate expression of conduct that would be sufficient cause for removal from the University—it is one of the most serious forms of interpersonal violence one can commit and a deep violation of the mutual respect community members must uphold," he wrote in an email to the Weekly.

The task force's report – the result of several months of work with more than 80 meetings and town halls, research on best practices and consultation with local and national experts on sexual assault – describes the positive steps Stanford has taken in recent years to improve its handling of sexual assault but notes that "more needs to be done."

"The past quarter of a century of work on sexual violence at Stanford has produced notable changes, such as the adoption of a university policy on prohibited sexual conduct and the creation of and implementation of a sexual-assault specific adjudication process," the report reads.

"The Task Force has been concerned to learn, however, that the experience of some students following their encounter with sexual violence has remained constant. Students today, just as they have in the past, express concern about a confusing sometimes-inconsistent system of response and support — a system that, despite good intentions, at times simply fails to provide some students the help they seek."

A "key" recommendation from the report is that the university streamline its response to and support of student sexual-assault victims, many of whom told the task force that the university process is difficult to understand, with many moving parts and different steps that involve different offices or individuals, and how the "decentralized, confusing system undermined their recovery and ... likely decreases reporting by others who experience sexual violence."

To combat this, the task force proposes the creation of a Confidential Support and Response Team composed of multiple fully dedicated, confidential counselors with professional backgrounds in psychology and/or social work who will, among other things: provide immediate crisis support to a student following an incident of sexual violence; inform them about university, civil, and criminal resources to help them sort through options and explain possible next steps; follow up with ongoing psychological care or refer the student to another professional trained in trauma response; and with the consent of the involved student, be responsible for case management and tracking, help the student understand reporting options and resources, and serve as a liaison between the student and all relevant university responders, according to the report.

"In this model, the number of people involved in any given case will not necessarily decrease, but each case will have a professional, fully dedicated point of contact to take responsibility for connections between the student and all other parties. We are optimistic that a shift from numerous people working in different offices to a unified team of fully dedicated, issue-area experts is essential for meeting our goal of providing a safe, encouraging, and respectful environment for survivors of sexual violence," the report states.

The task force is also recommending the university replace its current disciplinary process, known as the Alternate Review Process or ARP, with a new three-year pilot program that creates a single rather than bifurcated process for the investigation and adjudication of violations of university policy. (Currently, two entities participate in this process: the Title IX office and the Office of Community Standards.)

Also, instead of a five-member panel of trained faculty, staff and students, the task force suggests the panels be made up of three reviewers who are extensively trained, regularly sit on cases and are not undergraduate students.

The exclusion of undergraduates from the review panel is a significant change for the university. The task force said it came to a consensus on this point, acknowledging it is likely that undergraduate students' lives overlap in some way or students will know someone who knows the other people involved. More critical, though, is that having undergraduates serve as reviewers "sits uneasily" with the objective to have a panel that "is trained, experienced, and whose members are regularly hearing cases."

"As an undergraduate myself, I questioned this at first, because it's my identity and because I acknowledged the argument of having a 'jury of your peers,'" Woodson said in the university's Q&A. "But we thought about this for months, and it's from student feedback that we made this decision. Students expect an excellent process. For reviewers, this means consistency, ongoing and in-depth training, and regular panel participation over a multi-year term. It's challenging for an undergraduate student to make this the focus of their time here, which we will be asking of the faculty and staff members during their terms."

The task force acknowledges similar challenges with having graduate students serve as reviewers but notes some benefits: Graduate students would bring diversity, especially in age, experience, race, gender and sexual orientation; they are closer to the undergraduate experience than administrators or faculty; they are a more "diffuse" community with less likelihood of being connected to the involved students. Ultimately, the task force is leaving it up to the provost to decide whether or not graduates should serve on the panels.

Under a new policy proposed by the task force, cases might not reach a review panel if they instead first reach a resolution determined by the university's Title IX office, with the agreement of the students involved.

Dauber said the addition of such a resolution gives her some pause.

"This requires more thought because there is a risk when you create what is essentially a 'plea bargain' option that there will be unintended consequences," she said. This plea bargain could be a student-victim agreeing to resolution in order to avoid a lengthy and potentially painful hearing and the accused student agreeing to withdraw from the university instead of facing expulsion if he or she is found responsible for sexual assault, Dauber said.

"The non-hearing resolution is creating an informal mechanism, that, if it's not done thoughtfully, could create incentives that distort the entire process," she added.

The only similar policy that Stanford currently has in place is the "Early Resolution Option" for Honor Code violations, under which students who accept responsibility can avoid a hearing and receive the standard consequence for such violations, which is a one-quarter suspension. The policy includes specific rules for who is and is not eligible for this resolution option.

"The only benefit is the avoidance of a hearing," Dauber said. "If that is going to be the case here, then that could be fine. I am concerned that what is envisioned here is more on the nature of side deals made by lawyers to negotiate a quiet and confidential end to the proceeding with no student oversight or transparency. That could have the effect of turning the recommendation for mandatory expulsion into a tool of negotiating pressure rather than actual expulsions."

University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin, however, said that the concept of non-hearing resolution is "not new at Stanford."

"Non-hearing resolution is an umbrella term meant to encompass a range of solutions where a matter can be resolved without the need for a hearing, for example when the facts, and response to them, are not contested and the parties and the Title IX office agree on a disposition," Lapin wrote in an email to the Weekly.

The report also urges the university to explore the possibility of providing legal assistance to students who request it, citing concerns that the outcome of cases can depend on if one student has the means to obtain a high-quality attorney but the other does not.

The task force is also recommending increased communication about sexual assault, university processes and resources as well as enhanced training for faculty, staff and any potential first responders, including police, emergency medical personnel, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and Vaden Health Center staff.

The report also urges "extensive and ongoing" education on sexual violence to achieve an ambitious goal of shifting campus culture and making Stanford a place "that does not tolerate sexual violence of any kind."

The university plans to follow through on a commitment to create and send out this year a campus-wide climate survey "to initiate an important drive for data," according to the report.

Etchemendy wrote in a letter to the university that he plans to form two implementation teams – one focused on education and support systems and one focused on investigation and adjudication – to move forward on as many as possible of the task force's recommendations in the coming academic year. The report also suggests that the university form a transition advisory committee, composed in part of task force members and one person in charge of gathering input directly from students, to oversee the rollout of the new pilot adjudication process, collect and share data and assess the university's efforts in the "challenging period of transition" that come in the wake of the report.

In the university's Q&A with Magill and Woodson, Woodson acknowledged the sensitive climate around sexual assault that erupted over the last year at Stanford.

"Students were upset over the last year, and there were a lot of feelings of mistrust," she said. "We acknowledge that and hope this is the beginning of rebuilding that trust. What we're setting out to achieve is a safe campus, built on respect, that puts student well-being as a priority. We feel the recommendations, if followed through, will do that."

Mercer-Golden said he's not sure if the report will restore student trust in the administration, but he has been "pleasantly surprised" by the progress Stanford has made over the last several months.

"I think there is a widespread sense nationally among many activists that universities are mostly just trying to protect their reputations," he said. "I've been pleasantly surprised by the progress we've made over the last six months or so with the administration—I definitely praise them for committing a lot of time, money and energy to this issue. But this isn't the end of the road and I hope administrators and students alike realize we've got a great deal more to do to make Stanford a respectful, healthy campus, free of sexual violence."

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to collect news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to Storify.com.

Comments

15 people like this
Posted by Stanford Grad
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2015 at 10:01 am

If they expel students based on hearsay, they can expect to be sued. A lot.

Harvard law professors already wrote a letter to their school, pointing out that these policies are basically illegal and will inevitably lead to crippling lawsuits.

[Portion removed.]


18 people like this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2015 at 10:17 am

'Sexual-Assault' is a legal issue and not for kangaroo courts. The University's first role in a sexual assault accusation that comes to their attention is to notify the police as it is a criminal offense. Further, no matter how politically correct the atmosphere is our laws state that a person is innocent, yes innocent, until proven guilty. The University does not have either the power nor the means to render a true guilty verdict. If the person is found guilty in a court of law then the University can expell that person. Until then, the person is innocent.


13 people like this
Posted by almunday
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2015 at 10:41 am

explusion should be mandatory for a sex crime...are colleges/univesity's that hard up where they are afraid of loosing tutition money?


11 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2015 at 11:37 am

Expulsion should be mandatory for sexual assaults. This conduct is clearly unbecoming and unacceptable in our future leaders of society. They destroy a woman's life permanently. Losing their ability to remain in school is but a small price they pay in comparison to what their victim's suffer.


10 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2015 at 11:40 am

With the Duke and UVA cases offering more clear examples of how rape allegations can easily take on a life of their own--only to be shown to be false after a complete invetigation--universities should be very careful taking action against students who have not been found guilty in a court of law.

There also need to be sanctions against anyone who makes charges, or gives evidence, which turn out to be false.


15 people like this
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Due process so old fashioned.

Sexual assault is very serious, and should be dealt with by the criminal justice system.

Too bad Stanford is joining the hysteria.


7 people like this
Posted by DOA
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 8, 2015 at 12:21 pm

“People who *felt* that they had been sexually assaulted found it very confusing about where to go and who to get advice [from],” Etchemendy said. “They felt that they were sent from office to office.”
“It’s a terrible way to treat someone who has just gone through *probably* a very traumatic experience,” he added.

Ya think? You think it was "probably" traumatic for the people who "felt" that they had been sexually assaulted?

The Provost DOES NOT GET IT.

The recommendation on expulsion is DOA. That's why he does not say he accepts or agrees with it.

DOA.

Thank you for wasting a year on this so that everyone graduated who could have made trouble over it. Well played everyone.


18 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

Expulsion should be the penalty for proven sexual assault but not an accusation of sexual assault. I don't intend this in any way to cast an aspersion on the victims for whom I have enormous sympathy. But our judicial system is based on innocent until proven guilty and Stanford should not override that under circumstances. Perhaps suspension is a compromise. Nevertheless innocent until proven guilty is the law of the land.


18 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Michele Dauber, who seems to be a radical judge and jury on this issue, leaves out one important factor: Should women who give un-proven accounts be expelled? Should Jackie be expelled from UVA? Should she be criminally charged? Should university judgement councils be liable to civil suits for unjust judgements?

If rape is alleged, it should be judged by our courts, not a highly prejudiced and ideological Stanford tribunal [portion removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Apr 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm

This is absurd. I hope Stanford is sued into the Stone Age.

Expulsion makes sense for serious, proven accusations, not he-said/she-said or hurt feelings.


5 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:21 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

Is there ANY good reason in the WORLD not to expel rapists and sexual assaulters??? Any good reason at all? Why would a school WANT someone like that on their campus???

I think that the burden of proof should be on the man to prove that she said yes, rather than on the woman to prove she said no. That way, guys will stop manipulating and forcing women into uncomfortable "ambiguous rape" situations. I mean, that's basically what Kobe Bryant is doing now - if he has sex with someone, she signs a contract first saying she agreed.

There's a great article about sex at Stanford on a blog I follow. It talks about a new club called the Kardinal Kink Klub - and how, even though they have the most extreme sex on campus, they take consent very, very seriously. It's a great read: The Stanford Kink Club has the Healthiest Sex On Campus. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by DOA
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

If you are not intending to publish the last name of the UVA complainant, please delete the comment from Judy above.


7 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

Joseph E Davis - I sure hope that when a woman say "no" or "stop" to you - or even uses body language to tell you to stop doing something - that you listen. Because that is what this article is about. And if you don't think that is a serious offense... you're scary.


6 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:57 pm

EmmaB, when a woman falsely accuses a man/men for rape, should she be expelled or charged criminally? Should she be liable to civil suits? Should the man's name be used in the public arena, before he is convicted?

Should a woman's words be trusted any more than a man's word in rape allegation cases?


7 people like this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 8, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Colleges are in no position to investigate or determine whether or not sexual assault has occurred. That is a matter for the police, not a university. Only when a student has been charged and convicted of this crime--or any serious crime--should he or she be expelled.


4 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2015 at 3:32 pm

I agree with Nora Charles - exactly - however there are a couple more points:
1) The Obama administration has been pressuring colleges and universities to "deal" with accused male sex assaulters harshly - see the news -- and this in fact is not logical even if well-intended and 2) some women who say they have been sexually assaulted refuse to go to the police. Therefore, there is no rape kit, no record/report. I think these things are really important to note.
I completely understand that women who have been assaulted may be overwhelmed and reluctant for a host of reasons to go to the city police, but....I think it IS necessary. Otherwise, we are generally dealing with hearsay, he said/she said, in the absence of witnesses and/or evidence. It is awful and stressful when women are raped; it is also stressful afterwards, but we MUST have due process for the accused. That's the way it is in this country.
I realize colleges should be supportive of any student who says she has been victimized, I just don't think this is the place to START with the complaint. I think after a report is with the police, then the accuser should initiate a complaint process with the college sooner rather than later so that there is also a record in their system. I do NOT think the college - whether a student jury, administrators or some other conceited body should on their own have judicial powers. Unfortunately, we have cases where a female student is protesting a university's half-hearted reaction to an alleged off-campus/out of state rape; we have cases where females wait an over-long time to file their complaint, and etc. It seems harsh to say "innocent until proven guilty," but that's what I believe is the right way to handle this, like other criminal matters, rather than "what she says" or a "preponderance of evidence" IF that evidence is minimal.


2 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Apr 8, 2015 at 4:14 pm

[Post removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 4:29 pm

>Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, a staunch sexual-assault advocate deeply involved in the drafting of the university's current adjudication process, called the expectation of expulsion the "most important recommendation in the report."

Vigilante justice in its modern form. Not surprising, considering all the hysteria about rape on campus, which is less frequent than in non-campus environments.

Rape is too serious a charge to leave it up to people like Michele Dauber. It belongs in the hands of the local police, period. Once convicted, the perp should be expelled from Stanford, while he is in jail or beyond.

I agree with others that false accusers should be charged with a crime and prosecuted...not something likely to happen at Stanford, under current conditions. Stanford is skating on very thin ice....


2 people like this
Posted by OldAlum
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 8, 2015 at 4:33 pm

I'd just like to thank "Norman" for his clear thinking. That should cover it.


Like this comment
Posted by Alan D
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Attending Stanford while incarcerated would be extremely difficult. Expulsion should follow, not precede. The irony will be a slick Stanford Law grad worried about some one's right to a fair trial. She'll end up getting a perpetrator off on a technicality...


16 people like this
Posted by Stanford study
a resident of University South
on Apr 8, 2015 at 7:07 pm

Hey, I have a suggestion. Let's expel any FEMALE student who gets drunk. And let's make it possible for any male student to accuse a female student of getting drunk, without any proof, and get her expelled then.

Just think, if some guy has a crush on a girl, and she rejects him, then he can get even with her. He can have her expelled with no proof.

Hey, if women can use a Kangaroo court to get even with men, then men should be able to do it to women too? This should be an "equal opportunity" witch-hunt.


6 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Wow, just wow! [Portion removed.] Comment after comment about women crying rape when it didn't happen and what about the poor guy who will lose his ticket to the 1% economic club. A study showed that 8% of rape accusations are suspected to be false. So that means that 92% of women who say they were raped really were. But if you read the comments here, you'd think there was an epidemic of women at Stanford getting even with the male sex. I would certainly think that the possibility of being expelled might cause a few guys to think twice.


6 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 9, 2015 at 8:44 am

@Midtowner: The link below from Slate is a firm discussion about the false accusation issue. It is a substantial issue, despite your denials.

Web Link

My issue is more about what to do about false accusers. Should they be prosecuted or sued or expelled? Given the damage that they cause, I would recommend all three. What would you recommend?


4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2015 at 10:46 am

Clearly expulsion would be appropriate if found guilty by the courts...the same would be appropriate for other heinous crimes committed by students, faculty or staff...not just sexual assault. Stanford should not attempt to be the court/jury for crimes that belong in the courts. Let the legal system do its job.


9 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2015 at 11:15 am

Students that are truly convicted or confess to sexual assault should be expelled. However, there are plenty of cases of "she said/he said" or even outright lies uttered out of a need for attention or even to get back at someone. Like others said, such cases should be handled by REAL courts and not any panel of judges.

Just take a look at the recent Rolling Stone debacle.

The magazine published a scathing expose about a gang rape that supposedly took place on campus at a University of Virginia frat house. The story was horrible to imagine. The only thing as bad as that sort of rape is a false accusation about it. The false accusation -- even if disproved in court or later admitted to have been a lie -- can cause lasting damage to the accused (and victims of the lie).

Consequently, the fraternity in question is about to sue Rolling Stone for every last dime they can get. While I have strong feelings against frivolous litigation, I feel that this suit is justified. Those young men were seen as monsters because of a tale that had too many holes in it from the beginning. Even now, there are probably people who see those men as having "gotten away with it."

Like others have said, Stanford and every university should expel students who have been convicted or legally confessed to rape or sexual assault. However, this is not something that any sort of scholastic tribunal should handle. There are just far too many things that a school investigation or hearing might not be privy to and a decision could have lasting negative repercussions to any and all parties involved.


11 people like this
Posted by priced-out
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2015 at 11:41 am

At Stanford in June 2014 it was an amazing thing to see the way people flocked to support Leah Francis. I was left out in the cold. All I could ever think was that I could not possibly know what happened and so could not take a position, or even work up much interest.
But look at Jackie/UVA/Ro Sto. The article got published for the same reason that Leah got support - an issue that people just so badly wanted to feel strongly about, and come together over.
Very fishy. Another aspect of our narcissism? Want to see ourselves supporting he cause of the day.


6 people like this
Posted by Sue
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Craig Laughton,

That is an excellent article from Slate. I must say that I previously thought the false accusation issue was drummed up to diminish women. However, given what has been going on lately, you have convinced me that it is a real issue and that men should not be damaged by false accusations. And yes, women should be punished for false accusations.

Thanks, Craig


2 people like this
Posted by Ethel
a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2016 at 10:15 am

If anyone seriously expects Stanford to punish people for making false allegations, they're in for a big surprise. They won't be punished because doing so, it will be argued, will discourage others from reporting abuse. Drunkeness of the person making the allegations will be used as an excuse.


Like this comment
Posted by Nonsense and innocence
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2016 at 11:07 am

While I agree that sexual assault is a matter for police, and universities should improve reporting.

But I disagree with the "innocent until proven extreme" conjecture.

Let's put this in perspective- most organizations have rules they administrate for members. (Not judiciary!)

Example - business has a right to refuse service to unruly customers. The library can revoke my library card for not following their rules. I don't have to be found guilty by a judge and jury of drinking a soda in the reference section. The librarian can handle that - I lose privileges when I break rules. No judge needed.

Students who cheat on exams lose the privilege of going to that school - they are expelled. There is an administrative process to determine cheating, with accusations, and appeal (usually to a disciplinary board)

I see no reason why sexual assault isn't a rule on campus.

There could be an administrative process just like cheating. With review and with consequences (we aren't talking jail - just the loss of privilege of attending that specific college).

You lost your library card - now you gotta get your books elsewhere. No judge needed.

So I see no problem with a reasonable administrative process.

Now we can discuss what that process looks like: is the accuser required to file a police report? Is there a disciplinary board? Do the have written guidelines? Is there appeal? Is there a range of punishments ( suspension 1term, 2 term...permanent)

All good things to discuss. All legal.

And it can be a parallel process to the judicial case.

Judge decides if you go to jail.
School decides if you can attend their school.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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