Sexual assault policy shuffles
This summer, the University’s protocol regarding cases of sexual misconduct among students has been publicly scrutinized—by both a student who claims to have survived multiple sexual assaults and the student he accused of assaulting him.
The accused student was found guilty after the Special Examiner’s Process, but only received a disciplinary warning and sanctions to complete a special educational curriculum. However, both students involved claimed that the University mishandled their case. Since the University’s actions during the investigation process have been reported on by the national media, several measures to reevaluate and improve the way in which Brandeis handles reported sexual assault cases have been taken.
Since Joseph Babeu ’15, who initially filed a Community Standards Report against the accused student, posted a letter that the University sent to him explaining the results of the Special Examiner’s Process for his case to Facebook, the Brandeis community has led an outcry via social media rallying support for him.
The accused student has asked to remain anonymous.
Many students re-posted the letter and expressed their own concerns about the results of the process.
According to Babeu, the accused student sexually assaulted him multiple times over Babeu’s first two years at Brandeis, but he did not officially report these incidents until Jan. 14, 2014. The University’s procedure for handling sexual assault cases involving students—the Special Examiner’s Process, by which an external investigator determines who is responsible for committing violations—was initiated in response to this report. At the conclusion of this process, the University determines what sanctions are placed on the guilty party. In Babeu’s case, the process, which is estimated to take 60 days according to Brandeis’ Rights and Responsibilities handbook, was not completed until May 30, spanning over four months in total.
According to the accused student, upon counsel’s advice, he initially filed his own CSR with the University against Babeu for false claims, invasion of personal privacy—as he “considered this investigation to be a violation of that privacy”—and sexual harassment, although he dropped this claim one week later, leaving only concerns filed regarding false claims and invasion of privacy.
The letter addressed to Babeu, which was dated May 30, 2014 and signed by Dean of Academic Services Lisa Boes, stated that the accused student was found guilty of “physical harm, invasion of personal privacy, consent and sexual misconduct, taking advantage of someone’s incapacitation, lack of consent and sexual harassment.”
Following a June 24 Justice article chronicling these two students’ experiences with the University’s Special Examiner’s Process, as well as articles appearing in the Boston Globe, Huffington Post and the Washington Post reporting on the same case, the University provided clarification for the Justice regarding its handling of the case and execution of its procedure.
Rights and Responsibilities
Dean of Students Jamele Adams sent an email on Saturday to the Brandeis community to explain that “extensive” revisions will be made to the sections regarding sexual misconduct and the Special Examiner's Process for the 2014 to 2015 handbook. However, he wrote that “[w]hile these revisions do not impact the spirit of our code, they are so extensive that editing is not yet complete.”
Until the handbook is updated, the University will follow the 2013 to 2014 handbook, Adams wrote. He added that once the handbook is updated, it will be sent to students via email and will be posted online.
Adams did not respond to requests for comment on what changes students should anticipate and if there is a timeline in place by press time.
Former Vice President for Communications Ellen de Graffenreid noted in an email to the Justice several changes in the way that the University has handled sexual misconduct cases over the past few years. As recent as the 2011 to 2012 academic year, De Graffenreid wrote, the Student Conduct Board ran the sexual misconduct process. “Students on that board expressed grave concerns about being responsible for conducting hearings regarding sexual misconduct,” she wrote.
Finally, in 2012, the University introduced the Special Examiner’s Process for sexual misconduct cases, which utilizes a special examiner who is brought in from outside the University. Brandeis also adopted a “preponderance of the evidence” standard at this time, “adhering closely to the Department of Education’s instructions,” de Graffenreid wrote. As the process was introduced, decisions about the outcomes of cases were left to the dean of students and the vice president for student affairs “but without a Conduct Board, faculty members raised concerns about decisions being made by a single individual,” she wrote.
In 2013, the University changed the process and left the decision-making role—that of the senior student affairs officer—to the senior vice president for students and enrollment, who can also select a designee to handle the case. This senior student affairs officer or a designee works with a panel of three staff and faculty members that recommend sanctions. However, according to Rights and Responsibilities handbook, the senior student affairs officer or designee also selects these panel members.
“No process on such complex matters will be perfect, and universities are not designed as criminal justice systems. That being said, the process that has been established at Brandeis exemplifies the best practices as they are currently understood,” de Graffenreid wrote.
Who Makes the Decisions
De Graffenreid described a specific protocol regarding who is selected to help carry out the process. According to de Graffenreid, “[t]he individuals that Brandeis has identified for the examiner role have usually been external to Brandeis, and attorneys with deep experience in conducting investigations into sexual misconduct.”
Director of Student Rights and Community Standards Dean Gendron oversees the receipt of CSRs and refers them to either the Student Conduct Process or the Special Examiner’s Process depending upon the nature of the report, de Graffenreid wrote.
In most cases, the Special Examiner’s Process is coordinated by the Dean of Students Office, which reports to the SVP for students and enrollment. She added that the designee is often a member of the Dean of Students Office, although the SVP for students and enrollment or another staff member may also act as the decision maker.
“Efforts are made to have a Designee handling no more than one case at a time, and to select a Designee who is not strongly engaged with principal parties to the case,” de Graffenreid wrote.
As reported in the June 24 Justice article, according to the accused student, Adams recused himself from involvement in the Special Examiner’s Process for that particular case because he knew both students involved in the case. However, the accused student claimed that Adams “didn’t properly follow protocol” and continued to send restrictions to him by email as part of a no contact order after subsequent CSRs were filed by Babeu.
In an interview with the Justice, as reported in the June 24 article, Sexual Assault and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon expressed that her understanding was that Boes was appointed as the designee in this particular case because other administrators knew the students personally and it would “not be appropriate” for them to make the final decision as to the sanctions or punishments.
Appealing the Decision
The accused student wrote that he planned to appeal the University’s decision, as reported in the June 24 article. He claimed that the University “ignored” several of his statements and witnesses whom he presented during the Special Examiner’s Process. He wrote in an email to the Justice that he believes he “was found responsible for these instances with little regard for any fairness during the process.”
The student noted several procedural errors that he plans to appeal, such as a lack of hearing on issues not under the Special Examiner’s Process that he claims should have been subject to the Student Conduct Board.
According to a July 3 letter from Boes provided to the Justice by Babeu, the University Appeals Board on Student Conduct convened twice to discuss the decision, and found no basis for the appeal. The case, according to the letter, has therefore been concluded.
The appeals process requires that the UAB submit “opinions, thoughts, and suggestions about the appeal” to the senior student affairs officer or designee, according to the Rights and Responsibilities handbook.
However, the senior student affairs officer or designee will “retain the discretion to amend or uphold the original final decision,” as described in the Rights and Responsibilities handbook.
According to de Graffenreid, the dean of students selects faculty and staff members to serve on the UAB, and staff or faculty members involved in the case may not serve on the UAB. Student members of the UAB do not participate in the Special Examiner’s Process.
Although it was reported in the June 24 article that McMahon said that she was asked questions throughout the Special Examiner’s Process, she has no role in the decision process for assigning sanctions.
McMahon described her role as “separate from the judicial process,” primarily due to the fact that her role is to support students and being involved in the process would be a conflict of interest. However, she remains the sole sexual assault and prevention specialist on campus.
De Graffenreid wrote that “[t]he Brandeis conduct process is led by individuals who care deeply about our students, and have committed their lives to their safety, development and success.”