Torch readers will already be familiar with some of the procedural safeguards generally missing from sexual misconduct cases tried by campus judiciaries, as well as recent allegations that some college officials are withholding evidence and presuming the guilt of accused students. But on Tuesday, the Swarthmore College student newspaper Swarthmore Independent shed light on another worrying aspect of collegiate procedures in hearings involving allegations of sexual misconduct: At Swarthmore, volunteers are solicited to serve on hearing panels in a manner that compromises the impartiality of the panels.
According to the Independent, all Swarthmore students were emailed application forms for the college’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Hearing Panel. Each panel will be comprised of a student, a faculty member, and a staff member who are trained on, among other things, “the dynamics of sexual harassment, … the factors relevant to a determination of credibility, … evaluation of consent and incapacitation, the application of the preponderance of the evidence standard … , sanctioning, and the College’s policies and procedures.”
The Independent contrasts this invitation to participate with the system for selecting fact-finders in both other campus cases and in criminal and civil juries:
Previously, a student representative applying for the [College Judiciary Committee] had only the vaguest idea of what kinds of cases he or she might be asked to hear, whereas the new panel explicitly advertises that it will address sexual assault. This means that the College is inviting students who hold strong opinions on the prosecution of assault and harassment to come forward and try their peers. A passion for serving on the Movie Committee is one thing. A passion for serving on the Sexual Assault and Harassment Hearing Panel is quite another.
In a court of law, members of a jury are chosen randomly, and attorneys vigorously screen for bias during jury selection. No judge with an iota of credibility would publicize the nature of an alleged crime so that local activists could appoint themselves to the jury. Yet this is precisely what Dean [Nathan] Miller is doing with his updated judicial policies.
Further, the Independent points out that the size of the hearing panel may put an enormous amount of control in the hands of one student:
Notably, the panel requires just three voting members and can be decided by a simple majority of two people. That means that one “elected” faculty member and one student activist could determine whether or not to label another student as a sexual assailant and permanently bar him from campus.
Read the Swarthmore Independent’s article for more details on how Swarthmore’s policies may deprive its students of fundamental fairness and due process.