Petition seeks to push “innocent until proven guilty”
A Lafayette alumnus has created an online petition hoping to change the way Lafayette handles conduct violations, seeking an “innocent until proven guilty” approach in lieu of the current “more likely than not” stance.
Currently, the handbook reads that “a violation will be deemed to have occurred if the information presented at the hearing supports the conclusion that it is more likely than not that the Code of Conduct was violated.” Conner Drigotas ‘13, the alum who wrote the petition, said that this language allows for the consideration of questionable evidence in conduct case procedures.
“‘More likely than not’…leaves room for a substantial gray area where opinion or hearsay can be overwhelming to the point of yielding unjust results [in conduct cases],” Drigotas said.
Drigotas said he wants to see the language from preponderance of evidence to the standard of reasonable doubt. The petition he wrote says that “Lafayette College should honor the American principle: Innocent Until Proven Guilty.”
Drigotas said the petition spawned from student concern about the way conduct cases were handled.
“The idea was generated from a number of student conduct cases,” he said. “It came from a lot of students expressing concerns with their rights and responsibilities as undergraduates.”
As of printing, the petition has received 415 names of its 1,000-signature goal. Students have commented statements of support on the petition’s page, saying that Lafayette’s current conduct case procedures are unjust.
“It’s about time,” Fletcher Sipple ‘15 wrote. “There is no respect for facts, due process or justice at all in this conduct system.”
Director of Student Development Greg Meyer, who oversees conduct processes at Lafayette, said that the conduct case policies at Lafayette were officially codified in the mid-90s, but have “probably [been] in practice longer than that.” He cited The Model Student Code by Ed Stoner, a campus conduct expert, as to why Lafayette uses the “more likely than not” principle, which “advocates using a ‘more likely than not’ or ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard for disciplinary decision making.”
He also cited a district court order on standards of procedure for student discipline in public higher education institutions, which states, “the [campus] disciplinary process is not equivalent to the criminal law process of federal and state criminal law.” Even though the document only applies to public institutions, Meyer said that Lafayette follows the principles set by the court.
President Byerly agreed that legal procedures and college conduct procedures are not the same, saying that consequences of each are different.
The conduct processes “don’t have legal consequences and outcomes,” Byerly said. “[Conduct cases are not] run with the same tightness that a courtroom would be run.”
New conduct policies, including a new code of conduct and a reworking of the procedure of appeal cases, were passed by the faculty of the school, and have now gone to the Board of Trustees, which will vote on new policies at their meeting in May. Even though the language Drigotas wants to change was not altered in the new policies, which Meyer said is still not likely to happen, the college is always willing to consider new ideas when changing conduct policy.
“It would seem unlikely that that change would be made,” he said. “And I’m not sure I understand what the reason would be to do that. But I’m always open to exploring everything; I like new ideas, and will research them and will look into them, and will always involve students in those conversations.”