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Committee presents draft recommendations to overhaul student judicial systems

STANFORD -- Preliminary recommendations for a completely revamped student judicial affairs system that would shift the focus of the disciplinary process to students were presented to members of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Senate on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Geophysics Professor Mark Zoback, head of the "Committee of 15" appointed by President Gerhard Casper to review the charter that governs the disciplinary process, outlined the proposal, which also will be presented to the Faculty Senate on Nov. 7.

"What we are trying to do with the whole modification of the judicial system is to put students into the center," Zoback said.

ASSU President Bill Shen said after the meeting that he is "very excited about the student focus" and is particularly pleased that the student senate is being asked to determine the burden of proof that will be used in deciding cases.

"I think this really does mean a lot to this body and to students that we are being given this responsibility," Shen said.

The student senate will debate the burden of proof issue and make a decision by the beginning of winter quarter and report back to the Committee of 15, which will incorporate the recommendation into the proposal.

Since 1968, the Stanford Legislative and Judicial Charter has specified that cases must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," the same burden of proof used in criminal proceedings.

The review committee struggled with the question of whether the evidentiary standard should be downgraded to "clear and persuasive evidence." Although most members agreed that the current burden of proof is too high, they concluded that the student senate should be given the opportunity to decide the issue.

The charter enforces two student codes of conduct: the Fundamental Standard for general behavior and the Honor Code for academic behavior.

After they review feedback on the initial proposals, the Committee of 15 will present a new charter to the student and faculty senates and to the president for approval in early 1997.

The committee encourages input from all members of the Stanford community and asks that any comments or suggestions be addressed to Laurette Beeson (lbeeson@forsythe, 723-7088). "We are trying to make this as open a process as possible from beginning to end," Zoback said, in a recent interview in his office.

Clumsy and bizarre

Stanford's current judicial process has been described as "clumsy," "bizarre" and "too bureaucratic," with cases dragging on for months. As a result, accused students often choose to bypass faculty and peer involvement in the process, opting instead for an administrative decision. Many faculty also choose to bypass the system, because they have suffered from the "black hole effect," Zoback said. "They report something and then nothing happens as far as they can tell."

The updated charter, if enacted, will revamp the entire disciplinary process from top to bottom. "To their credit, the president and the provost made our jobs a lot easier in the sense that we were really encouraged to come up with something new," Zoback said.

Committee members were guided by a strong belief in the importance of having a judicial process that serves as an educational tool, through which students may learn from their errors, Zoback said. Given that view, he said, they decided to uphold the current standard that confidentiality is appropriate for the accused.

"We are not educating a bunch of criminals here," Zoback said. "We are educating an absolutely tremendous group of people. But this is also a group of people who are under tremendous pressure ­ academic and personal ­ and that pressure can lead them to do stupid things like cheat and take unfair advantage at a critical time. If a student has done that and is caught, he or she can learn a lot from the process as long as it is handled correctly. There is no need to humiliate anybody."

But Zoback added that a better system of reporting violations and sanctions issued should be developed at Stanford. "Right now, it's all secret, secret, secret," he said. "It's terrible. . . . There is nothing to be ashamed about. Judicial affairs is a part of campus life and the more it is out in the open, the better it will function and the fewer problems we will have to deal with."

To that end, the committee designed a new system that gives students more control over the judicial process. "The bottom line is that the system we are proposing is going to be a much more fair system toward students than the current one, because it is going to engage them from start to finish in the whole process," Zoback said.

While the names of students involved in the cases will be kept confidential, Zoback said he hopes that greater student involvement in the process will result in more candid discussions among students about issues relating to disciplinary matters on campus.

The proposed system

Under the proposed system, a standing board on judicial affairs will be set up to review policy issues regarding the disciplinary process. The 15-member board will be composed of six students, six faculty and three staff members. "One thing they will have to do in the early days is keep track of how well the new process is going, so that if something is not going well, we can tune up the system," Zoback said.

Complaints may be filed by faculty members, students or staff. All cases will be heard by a six-member judicial panel, composed of four students and two faculty and/or staff and chaired by a student. Every case in which a complaint is filed will be heard by a judicial panel unless the person making the complaint decides to drop it. "This is to prevent cases from getting dropped or being treated arbitrarily," Zoback said.

Members of the judicial panels will be appointed by a judicial adviser, who will serve as the university's chief administrator, adviser and spokesperson on judicial affairs. The judicial adviser will pick the panelists from a pool of 32 people ­ 20 students, six faculty and six staff ­ who will be selected at the beginning of the academic year by the ASSU Senate, the Faculty Senate and the provost, and trained to serve on judicial panels or appeals panels as needed.

"This in itself is an extraordinarily instructional thing to do because you immediately have 20 students a year who are involved in judicial affairs, in addition to the six students who are members of the board on judicial affairs," Zoback said.

According to the draft charter, a complainant can appear as a witness at a hearing. Similarly, the accused student can present evidence in his or her defense. A friend or an adviser also can accompany the accused student to the hearing. Because the hearings are administrative and not legal procedures, however, accused students must represent themselves at hearings, either in person or in writing.

The recommendation for self-representation serves to level the playing field, Zoback added. "Right now, if a student has the money, he or she can bring in a lawyer and can sit there like O.J. Simpson and not say a word," he said. "This is grossly unfair because it favors students who can afford it."

An individual designated the judicial officer will be the principal investigator and fact finder in all cases. This person will present evidence at panel hearings as required and inform complainants about the outcome of judicial procedures. He or she also may suggest that the complainant drop the charges if there seem to be insufficient grou