A black mark on stu­dents’ records

The Washington Post Sunday - - OPINION SUNDAY - dlet­ters@ wash­post. com

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

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