University seeks input on proposed updated judicial process for sexual assault

The Stanford community is invited to comment on a proposed updated process, recommended by a campus task force, for investigating and adjudicating cases of prohibited sexual conduct involving students.

Members of the Stanford community are invited to comment on a proposed updated process for investigating and adjudicating cases of prohibited sexual conduct brought against students.

The new process was proposed last spring by the Provost's Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices, an 18-member panel of students, faculty, staff and alumni. The task force called for a refined process that would maximize consistency and minimize procedural delays when the university investigates allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct involving students.

A subgroup of the task force has worked with the Title IX Office and the Office of Community Standards to translate the recommendation into the proposed Student Title IX Process. Comments about the proposed process can be submitted via a form on the Stanford website and will be accepted through Friday, Dec. 4.

The university hopes to implement the new process in the winter quarter on a pilot basis.

Development of the new process is one of a number of actions Stanford has taken on the pressing issue of sexual assault. Among other things, in response to task force recommendations Stanford is hiring staff for an expanded Confidential Support Team for students in crisis, and the campus has taken required sexual assault prevention training for new undergraduates and extended it to all graduate students.

In addition, Stanford Law School Dean M. Elizabeth Magill, who co-chaired the task force, will head an advisory group to receive information about implementation of the new adjudication process and work with university staff to assess its success.

The new Student Title IX Process, which would replace the current Alternate Review Process, is designed for cases in which a Stanford student is alleged to have committed sexual assault, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence or stalking in violation of university policy. Universities are responsible for addressing such cases under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs. (A police investigation and criminal prosecution may also occur separately to determine if any conduct violated criminal law.)

"We are working to ensure an adjudication process that is fair, consistent and equitable as part of our ongoing effort to achieve a campus environment free of sexual violence," said Provost John Etchemendy. "The proposed process also represents a significant investment of resources by the university in new staff and support resources that will be available to students participating in the process."

Key features of the proposed process are:

  • Single, unified process: The process includes an investigation phase undertaken by the campus Title IX Office (currently headed on an interim basis by Cathy Glaze, associate dean for student affairs at Stanford Law School, while the search for a permanent Title IX coordinator is conducted).

    If as a result of the investigation the Title IX Office charges a student with violating university policy, the case moves from the Title IX Office to a hearing panel, which determines responsibility for the conduct and discipline to be imposed.

    In the event there is a concern by either party about the inclusion or exclusion of evidence in the case, they can ask for a pre-hearing review of the evidence, which is conducted by a separate evidentiary specialist – a new role being created to hear and address any concerns about the evidence used in the case.

    As is currently the case, while the investigation and hearing process occurs, the university also may impose temporary accommodations or safety measures as needed to provide for the safety of a student and the broader campus community, as well as to ensure equal access to the university's educational programs.

  • Support and legal assistance: Once an investigation is launched, each party under the proposed process is encouraged to be assisted by a support person who serves as an adviser in the proceedings.

    The support person may be an attorney, and if either party wishes, the university will provide them with up to six hours of paid consultation by a local attorney selected from a university-identified list. Either party can continue their work with the attorney past the six hours without reimbursement by the university.

    This new paid-consultation feature responds to a task force recommendation that Stanford explore ways of providing legal assistance to students who wish to have it.

  • Multiple, highly trained reviewers: When a case has been charged and moves from the Title IX Office to a hearing panel for decision, the panel will consist of three individuals from a pool of trained, qualified faculty, staff and graduate students. The hearing process will be managed by a hearing coordinator – another new position created for this process – reporting to the Office of Community Standards.

    The task force recommended that hearing panels consist of reviewers who are thoroughly trained and who serve over a period of years. As recommended by the task force, the pool of reviewers would not include undergraduate students; the proposed process does include graduate students serving as reviewers.

    The panel will determine whether the charged student is responsible for prohibited conduct under university policy and what the disciplinary sanction should be.

  • Findings of responsibility and sanctions: As recommended by the task force, the panel's determination of responsibility must be unanimous.

    At the sanction phase, expulsion will be the expected sanction for sexual assault as defined in university policy, also as recommended by the task force. A unanimous decision of the panel is required for the sanction of expulsion; a majority is required for all other sanctions.

    Under Stanford policy, which is based on California law, sexual assault is a specific act – a sexual act (a) involving intercourse, digital penetration, oral sex or penetration with a foreign object, that is without indication of consent and is (b) accomplished by use of force, violence, duress, menace, inducement of incapacitation or knowingly taking advantage of an incapacitated person.

    Acts that do not meet the conditions of both (a) and (b) may still represent sexual misconduct, which under Stanford policy is defined as the commission of a sexual act without indication of affirmative consent.

  • Appeals process: Either party may appeal the outcome of the case based on a variety of grounds outlined in the policy. The person hearing and deciding the appeal will be a faculty or staff member drawn from a pool of campus employees specifically trained and designated to hear such appeals. The creation of this pool is another new feature of the proposed process.

The full proposed process can be viewed here.