Statement from President John T. Casteen III
November 22, 2004
For the last several weeks, discussion and debate have occurred here on the Grounds and in the print media about how we ought to adjudicate allegations of sexual assault. Persons involved in these discussions have addressed various aspects of the issue, including the willingness of victims to take their cases to the police, the effectiveness of the University's internal support and adjudication systems, both when they make complaints to the police and when they do not, and the number of victims, almost always women, who are assaulted each year.
My immediate concern in this letter has to do with the rights and protections that belong to students who have been victimized by other students. Ample controversy surrounds other aspects of this discussion. Few "experts" who address these other aspects have information other than their own beliefs to support their positions. But on the matter of sexual assault in which both the assailant and the victim are students, the University's position is clear. Every new student hears it directly from me at the first-year convocation, and so also do parents and alumni who attend sessions at which we discuss student life throughout the year: The University does not and will not tolerate acts of violence against students who trust this community to be a safe and supportive place in which to live and work. And if after a reasoned discussion it appears to me that the penalties currently available within the University's system are not sufficient, I am prepared to consider the merits of mandatory expulsion as a single sanction.
Like most universities in this country, we have historically operated on the conviction that continuous education helps to protect students from persons, including other students, who would take from them the right to personal security and dignity that properly belongs to everyone here. Our first priority in responding to sexual assault when it is alleged must be a dual response: to ensure that appropriate resources and support are available to survivors whenever they need them; and to assure that both criminal prosecution of accused persons, and the University's own disciplinary proceedings, occur as promptly as is consistent with due process. These proceedings should lead to clearly understood consequences for persons found guilty of the charges.
Developing an effective sexual assault response is an ongoing process. Controversy about appropriate consequences exists: Some, not all, argue that the single sanction of permanent expulsion, as in the Honor System model, ought to be the rule. Others argue that mediation or arbitration with other penalties is the more appropriate course of action. Persons who do not understand the most recent changes in the law (with respect to The Clery Act and the very recent Georgetown University decision) assert incorrectly that this Act and federal agency ruling now set aside FERPA and permit the University to publish the names of accused students or require the publication of the names of students found guilty under University proceedings, in addition to present University policy, which informs both the accuser and the accused of the outcome and informs the community of the general nature of any offense that threatens us. The confusion that appears in much of the public controversy has understandable origins. Feelings on these matters are intense. Laws change, and the evolving legal landscape can be challenging to follow during the process of change.
Vice President Lampkin believes, as I do, that changes to the policy prohibiting sexual assault, and the adjudication guidelines administered by the Sexual Assault Board, are warranted now. Ms. Lampkin and the General Counsel have been working for several months in accordance with emerging guidelines from relevant federal agencies, and with significant student input, to amend the existing adjudication system with the intention of making it work as it should in the current legal environment.
I have asked Ms. Lampkin to publish for community comment the proposed changes to the current policies and procedures, as well as details on services and support available to survivors and their supporters. The statement is available here. Ms. Lampkin will continue to lead this review process, and I will work with her to make necessary changes. We may or may not choose eventually to use other collaborative means to address issues of community practice or environment that fall outside the strictly defined limits of the law. The first step in this situation, however, is to define policies that meet the relevant legal tests because this discussion is ultimately about crimes, violations of criminal law, in which for various reasons survivors sometimes elect to turn for support and remedy to the University rather than to the police and the courts.
I invite comment from all members of the University community as we review the proposed changes and determine what form they should take when this review process is done. Information on the system for receiving and assimilating comment appears at the end of Ms. Lampkin's document. At the same time, I urge everyone to assume a share of direct personal responsibility to protect all here against assault or abuse and to communicate immediately with the University Police or with any Student Affairs officer, including Residence Life staff, whenever sexual assaults occur or whenever the University needs to know matters relative to safety and security on the Grounds and in the surrounding community. This issue is too important, and the lives and personal freedoms of everyone in this community are too important, for anyone to stand quietly by. Read the proposed changes. Offer your advice, your expertise, and your knowledge as Ms. Lampkin works to complete them.
Accept your share of the responsibility, and let us work together to address a problem that belongs to each of us.
John T. Casteen III