For a university located near some of the nation’s most hallowed halls of justice, the “more likely than not” clause that guides the Student Code of Conduct offers a lesson in injustice.

Students of all ages feel targeted by a system that bets against them, instead of educating them.

Under the “more likely than not” standard, when a student is faced with a Code of Conduct violation charge, the complaining parties — the university or fellow students — must only demonstrate that there is more than half a chance that the student is guilty in order for that student to face disciplinary consequences. For those not so rare cases where students face vague charges, it can be very difficult to avoid guilty rulings even if they are innocent. If, for instance, a student was “more likely than not” drinking in his or her dorm room but was not actually caught doing so, he or she is still culpable.

As The Hoya’s editorial board pointed out in fall 2009 — and as Georgetown University Student Associations executive candidates Ace Factor and James Pickens noted earlier this semester — that standard unfairly places the burden of proof squarely on the defendant’s shoulders.

The university’s policy is more than slightly ridiculous. The American legal system — the legal system of the country in which Georgetown is located, after all —  is guided by the well-known “innocent until proven guilty” standard. This is rational.

But on the Hilltop, a lack of concrete evidence can favor the complainant rather than the defendant under the current code.

There is a concrete reason that the “guilty until proven innocent” mindset went out of style in early 18th-century Europe: It presumes that a law-abiding citizen is the exception, not the rule. As a result, it fosters a culture in which individuals feel targeted, not protected, by those in positions of authority.

Similarly, the “more likely than not” clause that is at the core of Georgetown’s Code of Conduct privileges the accuser. This institutionalized inequality can make it seem that the university is, above all else, concerned with keeping students on the straight and narrow. Furthermore, it appears that it is confident disciplinary redress is the way to do that.

There is, of course, an inherent necessity for the differences between the American criminal court system and the university’s disciplinary committee. The university has a responsibility to foster an environment conducive to learning and to promote the common good of the campus population. As a result, instituting a “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden of proof — such as that used in criminal trials in most Western nations — may hinder the university’s ability to adequately discourage behavior that seriously disrupts the community.

But, this does not mean that the burden of proof should remain on the defendant. Instead, the Code of Conduct should require accusing parties to prove their case with a “preponderance of evidence,” which gives benefit of the doubt to the accused. This standard, while less stringent than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” will eliminate the unreasonable bias against defendants that is currently implicit in the Code of Conduct.

The university should not, and need not, be the enemy of students. Changing the standard of judgment will help ensure that students do not see the university as their adversary, but rather as their advocate.

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