Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1996-1997 index

Distributed May 1, 1997
Contact: Mark Nickel

Adjudicating cases of sexual misconduct

Ad hoc committee recommends changes to Brown's disciplinary system

The final report of an Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Misconduct recommends more than a dozen changes to Brown's disciplinary system, including a new "structured negotiation" option.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- An Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Misconduct, appointed last December to review Brown University's disciplinary process regarding sexual misconduct, has submitted its final report to Provost James Pomerantz and Dean of Student Life Robin Rose.

The 30-page document addresses campus concerns about the disciplinary system and makes more than a dozen recommendations for changes, large and small. The recommendations and observations are the work of 11 committee members, with contributions from a broad cross-section of organizations and individuals from the Brown community. Sheila E. Blumstein, professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences and former dean of the College, chaired the committee.

Editors: Copies of the 30-page report are available from the News Bureau by mail or from the News Bureau's web site.

"The ad hoc committee's basic finding is that the disciplinary system at Brown, while effective and well conceived, is often seen as adversarial or quasi-legal," said Laura Freid, executive vice president for external affairs. "The report's recommendations, particularly its call for a new `structured negotiation' option, address that central concern head-on and will be immensely valuable as the provost and dean of student life continue their review of the University's disciplinary system."

Changes to the disciplinary system, Freid added, must be presented to the Brown Corporation, the University's governing body, and will require the Corporation's approval.

"We are committed to reviewing this report carefully, giving each recommendation and finding full and fair consideration, and to listening to the reactions of the community to the report," Pomerantz and Rose wrote in a memo to students, faculty and staff. "Our goal for this semester is to hear reactions to the report from as many community members as possible."

Pomerantz and Rose will hold an open forum for the campus community at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, in Arnold Lounge. The meeting is intended to encourage community discussion and is not open to the press.


General recommendations

The committee gathered and analyzed campus concerns about the University Disciplinary Council (UDC), particularly with regard to cases of sexual misconduct, and determined that a two-pronged process would best address those concerns. First, the committee recommended a series of procedural changes that will lessen the adversarial nature of UDC hearings. Second, the committee recommended a new formal procedure - "structured negotiation" - as a voluntary alternative to UDC hearings.

Those two recommendations are described in greater detail below. Other recommendations include:

Changes to hearing process

Structured Negotiations

A major concern of the committee was that certain cases and certain situations potentially involving sexual misconduct might be better adjudicated by a process in which the parties engage in conversation rather than by the disciplinary process. It is sometimes the case that the complainant may be seeking an acknowledgment that what happened was wrong or that the charged student may be willing to reconcile outside the hearing process. The committee found that both parties "lose control" of the matter in a UDC hearing, where they are pitted against each other, sometimes in ways neither party had wanted.

The committee recommends that Brown develop a voluntary "structured negotiation" alternative to the UDC hearing. Under structured negotiation, a trained arbiter could manage a conversation, either in a face-to-face setting or through a "shuttle diplomacy" format, where parties would not meet. The goal would be to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to both parties. Outcomes could range from a formal apology to voluntary withdrawal from the University and would be held in strictest confidence by both parties.

Structured negotiation would require:

With the report in hand, Pomerantz and Rose are moving swiftly to gather student reactions, evaluate the recommendations and formulate proposals for consideration by the Corporation. In addition to the open forum scheduled for Tuesday, they have posted a copy of the report to the University's web page and hope to receive additional comments via email.

"Brown has a tradition of involving students in deliberations that lead to change," Freid said. "The report already contains a great deal of student input, both from committee members and from two open meetings of the committee. Some of the report's recommendations can be undertaken directly by the administration and others will require approval by the Corporation. But I believe the campus will see noticeable changes in effect at the start of the fall semester."