Who should judge campus cases?

Posted: July 21, 2014

Under pressure for its handling of sexual-assault cases, Swarthmore College turned to an outsider to oversee them: a retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.

The college last fall hired Jane Greenspan, who has decades of experience as a trial and appeals judge and who now works as a professional mediator and arbitrator.

"They wanted a neutral person, not connected to the college or the students," Greenspan said. "I just listen to them and try to make the correct decision, as I would in any arbitration."

Swarthmore previously used a panel of faculty, staff, and students to rule on the cases.

The Swarthmore job was Greenspan's first appointment by a college to preside over sexual-misconduct hearings. Experts say such models are rare but likely to become more common as schools look to satisfy concerns that they mete out justice fairly.

"One way or another, schools are going to professionalize it," said Brett Sokolow, president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, based in Malvern. "They'll either do it themselves or more and more, they'll outsource it to firms like ours or to judges."

Sokolow said he has recommended for years that colleges exclude students from judicial boards in sexual-misconduct cases. Inclusion of students deters some victims from coming forward, he said.

Nearly two-thirds of area colleges that responded to questions from The Inquirer said students have seats on their boards. But some schools, including Drexel, said they were reconsidering that policy.

At Rowan University, students are not included on boards hearing sexual-misconduct cases.

"That is primarily to protect the confidentiality of the victim and the accused," said Melissa Wheatcroft, associate general counsel at Rowan.

To Swarthmore, Greenspan brings the in-depth knowledge of what standards, such as "preponderance" of evidence, mean. That's the standard colleges must apply to find a student guilty. It simply means more than a 50 percent chance the crime occurred.

She declined to say whether she agrees with the standard, but noted, "It's a very low bar."

Greenspan presides over the cases and determines guilt or innocence, but she doesn't impose the sanction - the school decides on that.

She declined to comment on Swarthmore's system.

"I know Swarthmore has worked very hard to get it right . . . with everyone's interest in mind, the rights of the accused and the victim," she said.

She also declined to discuss any of the cases she has handled or even provide a number, except to say there were a few.

Swarthmore hasn't committed to continuing to use an outside arbitrator. Its process, the college said, is under review.

"We continue to look closely at the array of best practices around the country for the fair, appropriate, and impartial adjudication of sexual assault and harassment cases," said Alisa Giardinelli, Swarthmore spokeswoman.


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