Evidentiary Standard Raised for On-Campus Incidents
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 02:10
The burden of proof for Code of Student Conduct violations will be raised to “clear and convincing evidence” for all on-campus incidents other than those involving sexual assault, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson announced Thursday afternoon.
The change will come into effect Jan. 1, 2013, and will not apply to violations that occur off campus. All off-campus incidents, which represent about 10 percent of all cases adjudicated by the Office of Student Conduct, will continue to be judged by the current “more likely than not” standard, according to Olson.
The standard is unlikely to change the number of cases brought before the Office of Student Conduct, Olson said, but it will change the perspective from which members of hearing boards examine cases. The office will also consider procedural changes to the adjudication process in the coming months.
According to Olson, the newly announced set of standards is intended to support a disciplinary process that suits a university environment.
“The two standards that we’re moving between here are very much the norm for colleges across the country,” he said
Olson said that his decision, which comes several months after the Disciplinary Review Committee initially recommended the change in April, was significantly influenced by the Georgetown University Student Association’s Sept. 27 student body-wide referendum on the issue. Over 2,600 students participated in that referendum, and 96 percent voted to support the evidentiary standard change.
“[Raising the standard] has been a topic of great interest to students broadly and to GUSA leadership who have spoken for those students, and I heard that,” he said. “The student voice has mattered a great deal here. … This is a change that acknowledges in an important way the fact that this issue matters to students.”
Olson delayed his decision until after the conclusion of a two-day external review of the Office of Student Conduct performed by representatives from Duke University and Loyola University Chicago on Sept. 26-27. Though the final results of the review have not been published, Olson said that he spoke with the reviewers and received the feedback necessary to make his decision.
Despite the change, the burden of proof for incidents involving sexual assault will remain “a-preponderance-of-the-evidence,” in accordance with guidelines from the Department of Education. Meanwhile, Olson said his choice to maintain the current standard for off-campus violations reflected a desire to consider the interests of neighbors.
“We take the interests of everyone who’s involved in our community seriously,” he said.
GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13), who helped spearhead the Sept. 27 referendum, expressed cautious support for Olson’s decision.
“While it is unfortunate that the standard is the same off campus … We have [90 percent of incidents covered by the new standard], and that’s a win,” she said. “Now the goal is to … push forward and continue advocating for this change for all incidents. Because in reality that’s what we feel is the fairest standard by which to judge all incidents that happen at Georgetown.”
As a follow-up to the review of the Office of Student Conduct, Georgetown plans to organize another external review, this time of the Office of Off-Campus Student Life, according to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanne Lord.
“It’s an opportunity to look at how to make our programs as effective and well received as resources for the whole community,” Lord said. “We want [the Office of Off-Campus Student Life] to be a place that students see as a resource for them.”
Gustafson said she was hopeful that this review would also provide students a chance to advocate for the expansion of the evidentiary standard change to include off-campus violations.
“I am hopeful that while we do not currently have 100 percent of incidents covered by the new standard, we’ll be able to continue to push forward for it because the university now sees how important it is to students,” she said.