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12/03/91

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Proposed amendments to judicial charter are shelved

Students have rejected proposed changes in the campus judicial system that would have made it easier to find them guilty on charges ranging from honor code violations to sexual assault.

The senate of the Associated Students on Nov. 19 turned down key elements of modifications proposed to Stanford's Legislative and Judicial Charter.

To take effect, any proposed changes in the student judicial charter must be approved by the Faculty Senate, the student senate and University President Donald Kennedy.

The current system has been criticized as unresponsive by some faculty and students, but university officials say they often are hamstrung by a burden of proof that is impossible to meet.

Stanford's Legislative and Judicial Charter, created in the tense anti-war era of the late 1960s, sets forth a burden of proof for conviction - "beyond a reasonable doubt" - that corresponds to criminal proceedings in the government-operated judicial system.

That would have been downgraded to "clear and convincing evidence" - comparable to the standard used in Stanford faculty misconduct cases - under a proposal submitted by the Committee of 15. The committee, a standing panel of faculty, students and staff that can suggest judicial charter changes, is chaired by law Prof. Deborah Rhode.

The proposed amendments were based in part on recommendations from the university's Sexual Assault Task Force, which stated in a report that few victims of sexual assault report incidents because they are discouraged by the current heavy burden of proof.

Other suggested amendments would guarantee certain rights to students who initiate complaints, and require accused students and student witnesses to cooperate during disciplinary hearings.

Members of the Faculty Senate were set to approve the recommendations after a lengthy discussion on Nov. 7, but the body lost its quorum before the vote could be taken. With the issue now moot, the Faculty Senate on Nov. 21 tabled the measure in a divided show of hands.

Following public discussion in early November, a unusual coalition of conservatives and 1960s Stanford activists lobbied against the scheme. The alumni group charged that the "current proposals would erode student protections further and would increase administration dominance of the judicial system."

In editorials, the Stanford Review and the Stanford Daily said that lowering the burden of proof inevitably would lead to the conviction of innocent students, but Rhode maintained that the lower standard would not significantly endanger innocent students.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the student senate approved several provisions of the proposed amendment, including one stating that the sexual history of a person filing a sexual misconduct complaint could not be admitted as evidence unless a hearing officer "makes a specific finding of relevance."

The students also approved a provision allowing students to retain anonymity up to a point in the judicial process, and another allowing a complainant to be accompanied by a support person.

The Faculty Senate asked Rhode and the committee to consider resubmitting proposals that appeared acceptable to the student senate. The Committee of 15 will not meet again until winter quarter.

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