William Smith, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, has ruled in favor of a Brown University student who was suspended for two years for an alleged sexual assault. Judge Smith ruled that the student did not receive due process.
The judge found several defects in the procedures by which Brown tossed the student. For one thing, Brown told the student he would be judged under the 2014 student code of conduct, but then, without warning, switched to a new and harsher code that did not exist when his alleged offense occurred.
All is fair in love and sexual politics.
In addition, Brown’s training of sexual assault investigators apparently caused them to deliberately overlook evidence with the potential to exonerate Doe, such as exculpatory text messages sent after the alleged assault.
Exculpatory text messages? Why should they stand in the way of expelling a student based on an accusation,, as a Dartmouth sexual abuse awareness coordinator once put it?
Based on what I’ve read about the way colleges handle complaints of sexual assault, the defects in Brown’s procedures, though egregious, are typical. Indeed, many colleges no doubt view them as features, not bugs.
Brown probably did. It’s great that Chief Judge Smith has disabused them of this view.
Throughout his ruling, the judge expressed his reluctance to intervene in a matter like this. He concluded, however, that Brown’s misconduct left him little choice.
The judge also had some choice words for the Brown students who launched an email campaign attempting to pressure him into ruling against the male student. He wrote:
After issuing the preliminary injunction this Court was deluged with emails resulting from an organized campaign to influence the outcome. These tactics, while perhaps appropriate and effective in influencing legislators or officials in the executive branch, have no place in the judicial process.
This is basic civics, and one would think students and others affiliated with a prestigious Ivy League institution would know this.
Moreover, having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court. Hopefully, they will read this decision and be educated.
The judge seems not to have been paying attention to what the education of students who attend prestigious Ivy League institutions consists of these days.
The male student had, by virtue of a preliminary injunction, won the right to Brown this Fall. However, he elected to attend another college with the hope, apparently, of finishing up at Brown in the Spring.
The court’s ruling leaves Brown free, though, to retry the student using better procedures. Brown says it won’t make a decision on whether to have another trial until it learns whether the student plans to return.
Whether or not he tries to return, the student has performed a real service by litigating this case.