A black mark on students’ records
The July 15Metro article “D.C. bill would put sex crime on college record,” about D.C. Council member Anita Bonds’s (D-At Large) proposed Postsecondary Sexual Assault Prevention Act of 2015, led by stating that the legislation would require colleges to make permanent notations on the transcripts of “students who are convicted of sexual assault or who try to withdraw from school while under investigation for sexual misconduct.” But Ms. Bonds’s July 14 news release referred to students who have been “suspended for, . . . permanently dismissed for . . . or [who withdraw] from the institution while under an investigation for a violation of the institution’s code for sexual misconduct.” It is not quite the same thing.
The news release language leaves matters exclusively to the colleges themselves, without reference to judicial authorities. An actual conviction for sexual assault, however, requires a properly constituted court. I imagine many people would have little problem with noting a student’s expulsion after conviction for a very serious crime. A suspension, on the other hand, presumes that an investigation and more definitive decision-making process is underway. Is there a risk that noting a suspension would appear to prejudge the outcome, in the sense of “guilty until proven innocent”?
Eric R. Terzuolo, Washington
D.C. Council member Anita Bonds’s effort to permanently brand the transcripts of students facing adjudication for sexual assault is well intentioned. Unfortunately, she has no comprehension of the lawless systems of justice at our institutions of higher learning, which are totally unequipped to handle matters of such magnitude.
Students at universities have none of the constitutional protections we enjoy off campus. As a condition of living in university-owned housing, a student signs away much of his or her Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure. None of the several universities in the District where I have represented students allows accused students to have a lawyer speak for them. None allows lawyers to cross-examine witnesses. At American University, I was forced to sit outside the hearing room, while my client, accused of sexual assault, faced off against a university lawyer. The hearings are presided over by fellow students, amateurs lacking the training or experience to rule on complex matters of evidence and procedure. Finally, the burden of proof in these hearings is dramatically lower than in courtrooms.
If Ms. Bonds’s proposal becomes law, our schools’ critically flawed adjudication systems will propagate further injustices.
David Benowitz, Washington