Campus / News / April 17, 2008

Report examines Grievance Panel

A student report on the Grievance Procedures released last week pointed out problems and made recommendations for the improvement of the Grievance Panel, the college judicial panel most famous for hearing cases involving sexual misconduct. The report, based on anonymous interviews and some outside research, points to problems in nearly every step of the procedures. None of the accused responded to the report, and thus their accounts are not included.

The spring 2006 report, delayed two years due to extended editing, was written using feminist methodology by Knox alumna Megan Gamble, class of ’06, for her Gender and Women’s Studies course. It was written at a time when issues concerning the panel garnered much attention. The Knox Student published a series of articles, a group of students self-published a critical essay in their GWST class, Student Senate formed an ad-hoc committee charged with making recommendations for how to improve the panel and the Faculty Affairs Subcommittee (FASCOM) submitted recommendations of their own. Now, two years later, this 45-page report has been released, and Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS) has released a list of demands that includes Grievance Panel reform.

Problems with the Grievance Panel

The call for change arose after a series of women who had negative experiences spoke out about their dissatisfaction. An article in the May 11, 2006 issue of TKS described the stories of two women who went through the panel. One woman, who also reported her complaint to the Galesburg Police Department, was satisfied with the outcome after Marcus-Allen Barlow was expelled.

The other woman, who decided to pursue her grievance on campus only, was not satisfied. The accused in her case was found guilty only of sexual harassment and was allowed to remain on campus. He stayed on campus until he graduated. Her main complaints about the panel concerned failures to follow the procedures and suggested that a longer turn-over rate of members might help solve this problem. Currently, members serve as alternate members for one year, then committee members for two years. She also suggested that members of the panel should have extensive training, including sensitivity training. She stated that when sanctions are issued, they need to be enforced. In her case, the accused was supposed to stay 30 feet away from her. When he did not, she said she tried to report the problem, but nothing was enforced.

This woman’s story was also part of Gamble’s report. But accusers who were not satisfied with the results of their hearings are not the only people concerned with the structure of the panel. In her research, Gamble also talked to three people who were or had been members of the committee. They expressed that being a member of the panel is difficult because they are forced to make decisions they are not necessarily sure of.

“It’s just tough,” said Committee Member 2 in the report. “It’s just not what I expected. You know, I walk away and I think, ‘I hope that young man is truthful’ … that’s all it is, that’s how I go to sleep the next night — I hope that young man is telling the truth … because if he isn’t, then have we, as the panel, given him the freedom to repeat his action again?”

Many of the problems with the panel are also problems in the legal system. The paper addresses the “burden of evidence” on a trial of this kind, whether it is a legal trial or a Grievance Panel hearing.

“Just as in the court room, we are encouraged to look at facts and base decisions on evidence, and that’s why I was frustrated,” said Committee Member 2 in the report. “In my experience, there is very little hard evidence, so it comes down to a case of ‘he said’, ‘she said’ and I just can’t tell you how difficult that is to be in a position where you are expected to have an outcome … At the end of the night the panel is supposed to arrive at a decision and it’s just very difficult to do that if you don’t have factual evidence in front of you.” This system disadvantages victims of sexual assault, according to the report. Gamble admits she does not, however, have any easy answers to this problem.

Gamble suggested that the panel procedures need to be much more highly publicized, specifically what the panel is, how to access it, and how it works. She also claimed that unclear procedures need to be rewritten and called for a more easily accessible guide to the process, since the “legalese” in the handbook is difficult to follow, especially in a sensitive state of mind.

What to keep

The goal of the paper was not just to discuss the problems, but also to find what should be kept.

“A fair amount of people I interviewed also had positive things to say about the panel,” Gamble said. Aside from preserving the existence of the panel format itself, interviewees also liked that the accused and the accuser are kept separate and do not have to directly address one another. One former committee member interviewed, however, did not think that the panel could be fixed.

“I think that it’s important to have a system for addressing people’s grievances, particularly students,” said the committee member, according to Gamble’s report. “But … I think it’s almost worse to have a mechanism that is really seen as a farce, you know, by people who serve on it, by the student body. I think that’s worse than not having any system at all, because if you don’t have any system at all then you know that, and you pursue avenues outside of the college, which is everybody’s right to do.”

Gamble said she thought fixing the panel is the best option, though she acknowledged the procedures would never be perfect.

“Our system, as it is, is based on dealing with the problem as the Knox community, and I don’t necessarily think that is wrong,” she said. “From everything I read, it is suggested that the way we do it is the best system.”

Junior Pam Schuller, a current member of the panel, said the panel has seen some improvements since the writing of the report. The panel has a meeting at the start of the year to go over what they can expect in a hearing, though she said, “I don’t think it was what it could have been.” She also said the panel now recommends mediation between the parties involved and recommends counseling services. Schuller said the people on the panel take it seriously.

“Everyone on it actually cares and wants justice,” she said.

A call for change

In spring 2006, there were a significant number of student and faculty calls for the formation of a task force to improve the Grievance Panel at Knox. The president of the college alone has the power to change the procedures. The faculty submitted their concerns about the panel to President Taylor in the spring of 2006. Student Senate formed an ad-hoc committee (chaired by Gamble) looking into the panel and what changes should be made to it, and Complainant B, the woman who had a negative experience with the panel above, said she wanted to see changes.

“What Roger needs to do is make a decision now, implement it over the summer, and have it ready to go in the fall,” she said in the May 11, 2006 TKS article.

Gamble’s report includes a list of recommendations to improve the panel. Schuller, who has faith in the panel, said she thinks a task force should be formed. And this week, SASS published a list of “Grievances and Demands in Regards to Sexual Assault on Campus” that includes the demand that a Grievance Panel task force be formed and meet at least once before the end of Spring Term.

“To be a successful community, we need to reevaluate what we have in our community,” said Schuller.

Why the panel exists

College grievance procedures are legally required as part of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which as of 1979, is more commonly recognized for requiring equal opportunities for men and women in sports. Title IX demands that the school have a process for dealing with “sexually harassing conduct by an employee, by another student, or by a third party that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an education program or activity, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment,” according to the Sexual Harassment Guidance (1997), an Office for Civil Rights document made available to all educational facilities that fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX. Without this process, the school could be liable for an instance of student-to-student sexual assault.

The Grievance Panel procedures have been a part of the Student Handbook in some fashion since 1983. The basis for the procedures the college uses today was written in 1993 (some clarifications were made in 2001). The rewriting of the procedures started after a case of sexual assault which occurred on Flunk Day, May 9, 1990, according to the Oct. 3, 1990 issue of The Knox Student. After student protest, including a petition signed by 157 students, Knox formed a task force to make recommendations for the improvement of the panel. Their recommendations were officially passed in 1993. However, an Apr. 16, 1993 article in TKS reported the story of a female student who went through the brand new procedures and was unhappy with the process, showing that the new panel procedures were destined to be unpopular.

There are two options for Grievance Procedures, according to Gamble’s report. One possible option is having a single arbitrator who handles all complaints. The Knox model is based around the second option, a panel capable of hearing complaints and defenses and making decisions accordingly.

Gamble makes it clear in her report that she is in favor of the panel model, but that there need to be some changes to how the procedures are presented to the campus and carried out. In the spring of 2006, the Student Senate Grievance Panel ad-hoc committee brought a resolution to the Senate body saying that the panel should be preserved after recommendations from FASCOM that the panel not hear felony cases. The committee recommended that both the accused and the accuser be provided with counseling after the hearings have ended, a suggestion that was mirrored in Gamble’s report.

The report was finished at graduation, said Gamble, but she wanted to make sure everyone who helped was able to have input on the final product.

“I was using a feminist methodology where I wanted everyone I interviewed to get a chance to read it and make recommendations for changes to the text,” she said. “I just didn’t want to use these individuals … They wanted to be part of the process.”

Report Recommendations

1. Our GP procedures and ex-officio members need to be made more public. There should be a great deal of education on what the GP is, how it works and how to access it. For example, this may be done by way of extra programming on campus or printing the procedures in the school newspaper and/or course list.

2. There needs to be a GP Manual for the Committee Members to follow when going through the procedures. This document would be a more helpful guide than just the Student Handbook, which does not include information on how to run a hearing.

3. The GP procedures need to be adhered to more strictly. There are too many insistences of individuals straying from the rules as they are laid out in the Student Handbook. Also, a yearly report needs to be prepared by the Chair of the GP, as called for by the Student Handbook.

4. Any part of the GP procedure that is unclear or deemed improper needs to be clarified. For example, the roles of the Advisor and the Advocate, and the concerns about the room set up for the hearing. This also includes the appeals process and the enforcement of sanctions.

5. Committee Members must go through some kind of training, a mock trial at the very least. The panel must not only know how to run the GP, they must also be aware of all of the complex issues that come with cases of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

6. The GP process should not end with the closing of the hearing. Individuals should consider counseling to be a part of the process, and the school should be sure that this is made available.

Timeline of Events for a Formal Hearing With the Grievance Panel (from the SASS Grievance Panel Cheat Sheet)

1. A formal complaint may be issued at any time, and all events on this timeline are dependent on when the complaint is filed. It is in the complainant’s interest to file the complaint as soon as possible.

2. Within two days of the complaint the Grievance Panel will decide if the complaint warrants a hearing.

3. The accused has the right to be notified in writing of the charges no later than seven days before the hearing.

4. Within four days of the complaint, if the Grievance Panel votes to hold a formal hearing, the accused and the complainant will be notified of the decision.

5. Each party may submit a list of witnesses no later than five days before the hearing.

6. If a witness cannot attend the hearing, he or she must let the Grievance Panel know in writing no later than three days before the hearing. The Grievance Panel will decide whether or not to allow the absence of the witness within 24 hours of this notification.

7. Within ten days of the complaint, the formal hearing will take place. The complainant has the right to a hearing no more than ten days following the complaint.

8. Any and all written testimony to the hearing must be submitted no later than 24 hours before the hearing.

9. Each party (including witnesses and advisors) will meet for a preparation session half an hour before the hearing.

10. In the past, the Grievance Panel has taken an average of five to seven hours to reach a verdict. However, there is no limit on how long they are allowed to deliberate.

11. Both parties will be notified via telephone of the Grievance Panel’s decision within 24 hours of the panel reaching its verdict.

12. Either party may appeal the panel’s decision no later than three school days after this notification.

Current ex-officio members

Heather Poppy

John Haslem

Cathy Walters

Tom Fucoloro

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