Wed 7 Dec 2016
Much of our best material comes from our commentators. For example, “wasting his tuition ’17” — who really ought to join us as an author — shared these thoughts:
As I ponder this case, there are two things most immediately clear to me: (1) given that this is John Doe’s lawsuit, the reporting of some details may have inevitably been skewed to his benefit, and as we don’t have the full side of Susan Smith, it is hard to ascertain who did what, and (2) what is factually verifiable by the complaint is the manhandling of the case by the College administration. Although Williams graces us with the luxury of choice with this case, I think that Pandora’s box is what should be investigated. There are many dimensions to this.For example, we can consider the different, colorful ways the Dean’s Office engages in college policy:
52. On the basis of information presented by Bolton behind closed doors and without affording John the opportunity to respond, the Committee said that it had no choice but to recommend expulsion as John’s sanction.
It is interesting that around this time, a group of Williams students were fervently campaigning for student representation in the Honor Code Committee (see: 8+4 Resolution). Was that related?
63. On March 8, 2016, Dean Johnson admitted to John and John’s sister, Lady Doe, that the disciplinary process is “unfair to students” and that the procedures are deliberately written in a way that allows Williams to maneuver itself in its favor. Johnson also stated that Pelaez should not have been aware of the outcome of the hearing or the likelihood of an appeal.
This knowing, explicit admission by a ranking Dean in Hopkins Hall of a flawed investigatory process suggests either tacit acceptance of this “unfair” process by a longtime administrator, or this longtime administrator’s incompetence at failing to do anything about it. If it is the latter, we ought to remember that Dean Dave’s experience prior to his current role is in coaching tennis, so we surely can’t blame him.
From the complaint that keeps on giving, we have:
The code of conduct, honor hearing procedures, violation reporting procedures, appeal procedures, etc. are ever-changing and continually edited with no notice to the students. The students have no way of knowing what the policies and procedures were at a past time unless they had downloaded the information themselves. A relevant example exists at http://sites.williams.edu/honor-system/suspected-violations/. Sometime at the end of March 2016, Plaintiff’s attorney cited the procedure when preparing this Complaint copying the standard for staff-reported infractions (see above). Since transcribing that information, changed sometime in April or May 2016, the procedure now states, “It is up to the Faculty Chair, in cooperation with the Student Chair and the Dean of the College, to determine whether to proceed with a hearing.” Before, it was solely up to the Faculty Chair and Student Chair to determine whether to proceed with a hearing.
Where are the accountability measures for changing policies? Who makes these changes? I’ve been here for three and a half years, and while I’ve yet to hear of any such procedures, there are many examples of the enforcement of these mystery policies by the Dean’s Office. One such example can be gleaned from our trove:
Also on March 8, 2016, Bolton told John and Lady Doe that John was “not allowed to appeal the sanction,” and that he can only appeal the fact finding portion of the hearing. The Honor Committee Appeals Procedures contain no provision barring students from appealing the sanction.
I’ve tried, and have yet to find any such procedures as well. This issue is not limited to the Honor Code Committee. The Committee on Academic Standing is gaining quite a reputation for making backwards decisions and telling students they are unable to appeal them, and then not saying why. Notably, there is also an athletics coach on that faculty standing committee. Same in the Honor Code Committee.
We further see how this just keeps getting better for Dean Sandstrom in an email she sent to John Doe:
The investigative report carefully lays out the relevant college policies that were in effect in 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and currently (see pages 4-8). While there were some shifts in specific language over time, there was always a code of conduct which prohibited sexual misconduct of any kind.
Who approves these “shifts in specific language”? Do the trustees? Does President Falk? I’ve also never seen these policies on printed paper; most are online, which makes it very easy for Dean Sandstrom slip in a word or two, as she or someone over there at Hopkins Hall clearly had. Again, where is the accountability? Who makes these decisions, and what processes and considerations do theses “shifts in specific language” go through?
For yet another example of curious specific language:
The College’s procedures limit appeals to i) significant procedural lapses or ii) the appearance of substantive new evidence not available at the time of the original decision. As such, the accused’s right of appeal remains highly circumscribed.
I find the word “lapses” in the phrase “significant procedural lapses” pretty interesting, but seeing as the college prefers to operate with a generous degree of flexibility with its definitions, I think one question we can reasonably ask is, lapses by whom? Since there was no new material evidence and it doesn’t seem like he did anything material in between appeals, did the Dean’s Office explicitly admit to incompetence by way of “significant procedural lapses” on their part by allowing him the opportunity? Is this the reason behind the last day (June 30, 2016) ex-Dean Bolton and Susan Smith shared at Williams?
Last one, I promise:
On October 21, 2016, the Hearing Panel convened. The Panel consisted of Ninah Pretto from the Dean’s Office; Steve Klass, Vice President for Campus Life; and Aaron Gordon, Administrative Director of Divisional Affairs and Vice President for Campus Life.
College policy says that the hearing panel is appointed by the Dean of the College and the three are drawn from a pool of staff who have been trained on such matters. I am curious as to what the policy means by “trained”. Steve Klass, who may warrant the benefit of the doubt given his experience here, and Aaron Gordon have careers built on operational roles and financial matters, it would seem, not sexual abuse cases. See here and here. Ninah Pretto, based on her LinkedIn, spent much of her career prior to Williams on immigration documentation and compliance, which, while valuable, do not constitute training in handling such cases. Why were three individuals inexperienced in these matters appointed to the hearing panel?
Curious to know your thoughts on these, and if you think they’re worth looking into as well. This is what I’m bothering my friends in the Record about right now, since a bunch of them are currently “torn” because they know either both or one of the parties.
The top few are great points that the Record ought to cover in detail. Contrary to some ill-informed commentary earlier, the Record comes out tonight. Perhaps you would join us as an author to provide a detailed analysis of their coverage?
But your later points are less relevant because they are the inevitable result of weaponizing Title IX in order to control the sexual relations among Williams students. Once you try to do this, endless language changes, regardless of who approves them, are unavoidable.
My current position: The College should dial back its sexual assault bureaucracy dramatically and stop using expulsion in such a ham-handed fashion. Give John Doe his degree and call it a day. To continue down this path is to ensure numerous embarrassing law suits — and destroyed lives — for years to come.
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