Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Penn lowers standard of proof in sex cases in a manner that was 'far from transparent'

Penn lowered the standard of proof in cases involving alleged sex offenses to "preponderance of the evidence," but according to an editorial in The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, "deliberations on the policy change did not include the wider Penn community. The Office of Student Conduct, which was behind the change, was far from transparent about its process."

In the news story announcing the change, the only voices quoted are those applauding it. One professor, Political Science professor Rogers Smith, said it will “change the outcomes” of cases at Penn. He added: “It will mean that judgments that a person is guilty of sexual harassment will be easier to achieve.”

Neither Professor Smith, nor any of the other persons quoted, acknowledged that by lowering the standard of proof, the school increases the possibility of punishing innocent students. The entire tenor of the article blesses the process using a "preponderance of the evidence" standard with an infallibility that doesn't exist.

The absence of transparency at Penn, and its apparent failure to consider the critical and difficult balance at the heart of the sexual assault debate (the need to punish offenders while insuring that the innocent aren't punished with them), is in stark contrast to the robust and serious debate at Cornell over the same issue. See, e.g., here. (And Mike Wacker's piece on this issue in the Cornell Daily Sun should be required reading at Penn, and every other school.)

Penn's lack of transparency does a grave disservice to a very serious issue.