In December 2017, Judge Donna Geck of the Santa Barbara County Superior Court ordered the University of California at Santa Barbara to reinstate “John Doe”, a student UCSB previously expelled for allegedly stalking his ex-girlfriend and directed the university to reconsider the student’s appeal.
UCSB expelled the student, (“John Doe”), after a university investigator found it was more likely than not that Doe followed his ex-girlfriend on campus, sent her threatening text messages and phone calls through a third-party, and arranged to attend a formal at her sorority so he could disturb her and her boyfriend.
Yes, this sounds terrible because it is. And there was every reason to think that Doe would have been in a terrible fix at a hearing to adjudicate this matter. But, as is too often the case, he never received one. UCSB rendered its decision without granting Doe an administrative or semi-judicial hearing or any opportunity to confront his accuser. Instead, UCSB’s investigator interviewed the Doe and his accuser, some witnesses and then issued a report finding Doe responsible.
Doe appealed the decision and was granted an appeal hearing, at which he and other witnesses testified UCSB. However, in upholding the investigator’s decision, the appeals board considered “only the evidence in the Title IX investigator report,” and did not consider the evidence presented at the appeal hearing, as required by UCSB policy.
Because UCSB did not comply with its policies, Judge Geck ordered UCSB to reinstate Doe and to reconsider his appeal using but all the evidence presented at the appeal hearing in addition to the Investigator’s report.
In February 2018, the appeals panel convened again to reconsider its decision in Doe’s case. Once again, the panel once again rejected Doe’s appeal and dismissed him from the university. The revised appeal decision included language stating that the panel had now considered all the evidence from the appeal hearing. But the actual decision itself was “identical in every respect to the original Appeal Decision,” according to an August 2018 court order that found UCSB in contempt of the court’s December 2017 ruling. According to the court, the new language indicated “that the panel did not genuinely reconsider the case, but simply added language that would make the original decision look like a truly reconsidered decision.”
Judge Geck made clear that she did not trust the appeals panel to once again reconsider Doe’s case, since that panel “does not appear to be inclined” to “independently review the evidence” and make its own decision. As a result, she ordered UCSB to vacate entirely the finding of responsibility against Doe and to re-admit him as a student effective Fall 2018.
If UCSB wishes to pursue the stalking charges against Doe, she held,
[I]t must select an [appeals] panel that consists of no members of the [appeals] panel that issued decisions in February 2017 and February 2018, or any other University administrator involved with John Doe’s case. A new [appeals] panel must conduct an entirely new proceeding and may not rely on the record before the prior panel.
The underlying problem here is that a lack of real due process created an injustice to the accused and alleged victims. This idea of punishment before the proof is going to be overturned in the courts and at some point, the colleges and universities have to gain the intestinal and testicular fortitude to create thorough and fair proceedings. All parties benefit when findings of responsibility are obtained only after a thorough and trustworthy process.