GUSA to Hold Referendum on Evidentiary Standard
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 9, 2012 20:09
The Georgetown University Student Association Senate voted unanimously Sunday to hold a student body-wide referendum regarding changes to the Code of Student Conduct’s evidentiary standard.
If passed, the referendum would not have the power to change the standard, which is currently set at “more likely than not.” The bill is instead intended to demonstrate student support for the Disciplinary Review Committee’s proposal that the burden of proof be raised to “clear and convincing evidence” for all student disciplinary processes except those involving sexual assault.
The proposal is now awaiting approval from Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, who told The Hoya last week that he would delay his decision until the Office of Student Conduct had undergone an external review set for early this fall.
According to GUSA Senate Transition Chair Nate Tisa (SFS’14), the bill was proposed in support of an open letter GUSA sent to Olson last week, which urged him to expedite his approval of the change.
“[The delay] wasn’t acceptable to us, because the committee passed the recommendation in the spring. It’s very, very urgent. Every week we don’t pass this recommendation, more students are harmed by this flawed standard,” Tisa said.
The referendum will be held on Sept. 27, concurrent with the external review.
Tisa pointed out that the date was specifically set in order to show the auditors that students supported the evidentiary standard change.
According to GUSA’s open letter to Olson, the Georgetown University Law Center along with several peer universities, including Duke University, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, use the “clear and convincing” standard.
GUSA senators expressed their support to the referendum and their disappointment in the university’s lack of action in improving the evidentiary standard.
“The very frustrating disciplinary process we have here makes me feel we’re almost barbaric or archaic in a way,” Senator Zach Singer (SFS’15) said, “The fact that it doesn’t look like you’re doing it, but you don’t have evidence to prove yourself innocent … I find it incredibly ridiculous.”
The referendum must receive at least 2,000 votes to be considered valid. Of those votes, a majority must be affirmative for the proposal to pass.
Tisa stressed that the referendum result will not be a binding change to the university policy, but is meant to show students’ support for the change.
“This is the most official action we can take,” Tisa said, “It’s meant to show people in the Code of Conduct Office that the student body isn’t going to forget about this. It’s not something that’s transitory or [will be] dropped. This is something that’s here to stay. We’re going to continue to pressure for this change.” Tisa said.
GUSA Senator Jay Factor (COL’14), however, expressed concern about the non-binding nature of the referendum.
“If we do this, and pass it by whatever percentage, and then still nothing happens, this seems like students might get cynical towards GUSA at least a little in terms of being able to express our opinions any time, but we can’t do anything to change,” Factor said.
According to GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS’13), the Student Advocacy Office plans to collect testimonials from students who are willing to share their experiences with the Code of Conduct Office in disciplinary processes. The testimonials will be presented to the reviewers of the Code of Conduct Office.