When accused of wrongdoing, Americans can take solace in one legal standard – that they are innocent until proven guilty. This standard isn’t in place in Georgetown’s disciplinary policies.

Under the university’s Code of Student Conduct, complaining parties must prove that a student has “more likely than not” violated the code. The code itself points out that this approach requires less certainty than that of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” norm used in U.S. courts.

If a student wishes to challenge an initial decision in an appeal hearing, he or she must provide “clear and convincing evidence” of his or her innocence.

The flimsy standard in the first round of the disciplinary process is unfair. It only increases paranoia among students if they can be found in violation of the code of conduct without breaking the rules, especially when they have insufficient evidence to defend themselves.

It also compromises students’ ability to trust university officials. The fear and worry associated with the fact that a student can potentially be punished for a violation for which he or she was not responsible does not foster a healthy relationship between students and administrators.

Students cannot justly be subjected to punishment merely because there is a 51 percent chance that they are guilty.

According to the Code of Student Conduct, the burden of proof in a given case rests on the complainant, who must provide substantial evidence proving the guilt of an accused party; the “more likely than not” standard shifts that burden onto the shoulders of the defendant, because he or she has to provide countervailing evidence of his or her innocence to overcome the accusations imposed upon him or her. As it stands, an innocent student who is charged with a noise violation, for example, will have a limited capacity to defend him or herself since it is unlikely he or she has concrete evidence that guarantees a 51 percent-plus likelihood of innocence.

Some could argue that any standard more stringent than “more likely than not” would be too difficult to put into practice at Georgetown, barring installing recording devices and noise detectors in dorm rooms and forcing students to take breathalyzer tests.

But justice is more important.

We aren’t arguing that students should be able to get away with rule-breaking, nor are we suggesting that disciplinary bodies be required to prove a student guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” We are merely suggesting that 51 percent certainty of guilt is not enough to sanction a student. The Election Commission would not call a Georgetown University Student Association election based on a 51 percent to 49 percent vote, so how can we justify sanctioning students based on the same standard?

The university should adopt the same standard for accusers in its initial disciplinary measures as it does for the accused in its appeals. According to the Code of Student Conduct, the “clear and convincing evidence” standard “requires more proof than the standard of `more likely than not’ but less than the criminal standard of `beyond a reasonable doubt.'” If accusers are held to this standard, innocent students would have a greater capacity to defend themselves, because the accuser would have to provide more proof of the student’s guilt than the “more likely than not” standard. The current policy makes it close to impossible for students to defend themselves. Adopting this standard – and a hearing process along with it – would more greatly favor the accused, as in criminal trials, without putting an impossible burden on the accuser.

The Office of Student Conduct should adopt our suggested alternative in the interest of keeping student disciplinary measures a reasonable and accessible process. Until then, the status quo for disciplinary hearings is unlikely to ensure fairness for students.

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