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Provost announces faculty-student committee to advise on sexual assault issues

L.A. Cicero John Etchemendy seated at Faculty Senate

Provost John Etchemendy addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

A new faculty-student committee will be convened to suggest ways of improving educational efforts around sexual assault and to provide advice on Stanford's disciplinary process for reported cases of sexual assault, Provost John Etchemendy told the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

The committee will be co-chaired by M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor and Dean of Stanford Law School, and Elizabeth Woodson, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU).

Etchemendy said the committee, which will begin work this summer, will be asked to review and make suggestions on a number of related issues. The first is expanding educational efforts for students around sexual assault and harassment.

Incoming students this fall will receive new online training before arriving on campus, and as in the past, they will receive additional live training during New Student Orientation, Etchemendy said. There also are preliminary plans to work with the ASSU on a new educational campaign regarding "affirmative consent." The new committee will be asked to suggest further ways of building student awareness of sexual assault and its prevention, as well as address related campus climate issues.

In addition, the committee will be asked to consider the university's disciplinary process for reported cases of sexual assault – including but not limited to the question of whether expulsion should be the "presumptive" outcome of the disciplinary process when a student is found responsible.

Etchemendy informed the senate about the committee in response to a question from Faculty Senate Chair David Palumbo-Liu about the university's processes. In recent days, students have raised concerns about the outcome of a case that has been through Stanford's confidential disciplinary process, and some students rallied outside the Faculty Senate meeting Thursday.

Etchemendy noted that the student disciplinary process at Stanford was established by agreement between students and the faculty. Stanford's current disciplinary process for reported cases of sexual misconduct, called the Alternate Review Process, was approved by the ASSU and the Faculty Senate last year after a successful three-year pilot.

In that process, individual cases are reviewed by five-member panels consisting of at least three students and up to two faculty or staff members. The panels make a finding of responsibility in the case and also recommend appropriate disciplinary actions. Both decisions may be appealed to the vice provost for student affairs. The process is focused on whether student conduct has violated Stanford policy, and the process occurs whether or not a criminal case moves forward.

Etchemendy said it is inevitable that in difficult and highly charged cases, one party or the other, and often both, will be unhappy with aspects of the process or outcome. Nevertheless, he welcomed recommendations for procedural improvements from the new committee, and he appealed to all members of the campus community to view themselves as responsible for creating a positive and respectful campus climate.

"We all have to take responsibility for the climate on campus," he said.

Regarding establishment of the committee, Magill said, "I'm looking forward to working on this important issue for the university with ASSU President Elizabeth Woodson."

Woodson told the Faculty Senate that the ASSU already has efforts underway to develop ideas for expanded sexual assault education, expanded sexual assault resources on campus and judicial reform, including establishing expulsion as the "default sanction" for those found responsible for sexual assault.

"Sexual assault is a national crisis, as we all know," Woodson told the senate. "Stanford is definitely not immune."

More information about Stanford's current approach to sexual assault cases is available here.