Monday, May 14, 2012

Dartmouth dean: sexual assault disciplinary hearing is an opportunity for the 'accused' to learn

Dartmouth conducted a mock hearing of a sexual misconduct case last week to demonstrate how the school's disciplinary hearing system is supposed to work. What Dartmouth actually demonstrated is that there is reason to be concerned about whether the rights of presumptively innocent students accused of sexual misconduct are honored at Dartmouth.

There were complaints by students about a lack of professionalism and a randomness in the questioning; one student voiced a concern that the system favors naturally eloquent speakers. It is discomforting that the fate of students accused of serious offenses is entrusted to a system that seems to be marked by chaos.

But the greatest concern might be comments of an associate dean.  According to The Dartmouth: "Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life April Thompson described the committee’s decisions as a balance between responsibility to the involved students and to the College community as a whole. 'We are a college, a place of learning and teaching, so we have to think about what gives the accused the opportunity to learn,' she said. 'We also need to set a community precedent — sexual misconduct is in opposition to our values.'”

As COTWA's bloggers frequently point out, language matters, and Dean Thompson ought to be more careful about hers. In fact, the "accused" has no need to "learn" anything, because he has not been found guilty of anything. To initiate a disciplinary hearing with the mindset that the "accused" needs to be taught a lesson, and that the the school needs to set a precedent about the horrors of sexual misconduct, suggests a possible bias that is antithetical to the rights of the accused.

We are hoping Dean Thompson's comments were taken out of context and if she wishes to set the record straight, we will gladly afford her an opportunity to do that here.