In what administrators say is a bid to make the College Judiciary Committee process more transparent, the college will begin releasing a statistical report on CJC cases each fall. The reports will, they say, break down the cases by category, outcome (whether the accused student is found responsible), and consequence. The first report, covering the 2013-14 academic year, will be released next semester.
But despite months of requests, administrators have been unwilling to provide the same kind of data for previous years — even though that data was formerly publicly accessible, in the form of hearing summaries posted to a bulletin board in Parrish Hall and sent to the campus newspapers. Those notices included the date of the hearing, the names of the committee members who heard the case, the category of the alleged violation, the outcome and the consequence (but not the name of the accused student). So a student interested in finding out, for example, whether the college had expelled any students for sexual assault, could do so.
But not anymore. The board is now empty: this year, administrators ceased the practice of posting the notices, saying it was ineffective at providing the campus with an accurate and accessible picture of what the CJC does, and that in the future, relevant CJC information would be included in a new annual report. They would not provide the Phoenix with past board notices or even the same statistics that will be included in the new reports.
After several weeks of inquiries, Judicial Affairs Coordinator Nathan Miller, who will be compiling the reports, said he did not have data for previous years. He began work in July; previously, Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal was responsible for overseeing much of the college judicial process and record keeping. She retired last year. Miller said Dean of Students Liz Braun might have access to Westphal’s records, but that he does not.
Braun said that her office could compile the data from 1994-95 to 2012-13, but that it would take several weeks. Just over a month later, she sent the Phoenix a statistical report — but it only includes the total number of CJC cases heard each year and the total number of students found responsible. It does not break the data down by type of offense or by consequence, though it does note when students who were facing a CJC hearing withdrew from the college.
When later asked via email why she did not provide the requested data, Braun wrote, “I realized that in order to give you that level of detail that I would really need to also provide more of a narrative to help contextualize the data.” She said she could not do so because she did not have time and because she was not working for the college for most of the years covered in the report. Consequently, she said, she does not “have the broader context about things like how the thinking has shifted over time when approaching issues such as what is the appropriate penalty for a first time offense of academic misconduct.”
Mia Ferguson ’15, who has criticized the college’s handling of sexual assault and along with other students filed Title IX and Clery Act complaints against the college with the federal government, said the college might not want to publicly release evidence that there were very few, if any, sexual assault CJC cases, and even fewer expulsions resulting from them.
“Releasing statistics of CJC cases regarding sexual violence — if the numbers are very low, which I think would be fair to assume — it’s indicative of the school’s inaction in the face of a hostile climate,” she said. “It’s a Title IX violation, essentially.”
Braun said that she did not believe that many sexual assault cases were brought to the CJC, but attributed that to other factors.
“I think if you pull back and look at the broader society, there are all kinds of things that push against people bringing these cases forward, which again I think is why we’ve been working so hard to create an environment where students really feel like they can bring them forward,” she said.
Ferguson did not dispute that there were few reports of sexual assault, as noted in the college’s crime reports, and said that the potential liability for the college would come from a possible large discrepancy between the number of reports and number of cases pursued.
The 1994-2013 CJC report that the college did release to the Phoenix does not appear to reveal any significant trends. The number of separate CJC cases heard each year varied between three, in 1995-96, and 18, in 2012-13, though it does not appear to have grown considerably over time. (In 2009-10, there were 67 cases, but 47 of them related to one incident, the report says.) In the vast majority of cases, the accused student was found responsible. In two cases — one in 1994-95, the other in 2010-11 — the accused student withdrew from the college and consequently was found neither responsible nor not responsible.
College administrators said that future annual statistical reports will contain much more information, including the kind of information originally requested by the Phoenix.
They maintain that in the future, the reports will be an improvement over posting hearing notices to the bulletin board. “You couldn’t easily look at the board and know, okay, I’ve got a snapshot for this year” of CJC activities, Braun said. She said posting the notices was “not a good dissemination practice,” noting that when the board was full, older notices were taken down.
Miller said he hoped the new report would “break down some of the mystique” around the CJC process. He said that it would provide a “holistic presentation” of the college’s judicial process, including information about both minor misconduct cases, which are not heard by the CJC, as well as graphs and charts showing and analyzing trends in the cases.
The report will not include the dates of hearings or the names of committee members who heard specific cases — information that used to be available on the bulletin board. “My perspective is that there isn’t going to be less information,” Miller said, adding that “one can interpret it in a variety of different ways.”
He said releasing that information could compromise student privacy and possibly violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law governing privacy around educational records.
Ferguson disagreed. “At the end of the day, it’s just disappointing that the school won’t again be transparent, and there are plenty of ways to do that without hurting the privacy of victims and of perpetrators,” she said.