A student named only as John Doe was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student in a storage closet in November of 2014. At the time of the assault, Brown University had no policy in place sufficient to deal with the situation, Judge William Smith said in his ruling, and it lacked a definition for consent. They quickly formulated one, and a university tribunal found Doe “responsible for sexual misconduct.” John Doe was suspended from Brown until the time that the woman involved graduates.
Doe took his case to court, suing the university for breach of contract. The Washington Post reports that Judge Smith was inundated with emails and letters from a campaign to keep the accused rapist off campus. In particular, an article from popular college newspaper The Tab seems to have inspired people to bother the accused and Judge Smith.
Judge Smith ultimately vacated Brown University’s decision to bar John Doe from campus, though he is currently not enrolled. In court, the judge said in part:
It is important to make it unequivocally clear at the outset that the Court’s only role in this case is to determine whether Doe’s disciplinary “process [was] carried out in line with [the Plaintiff] student’s reasonable expectations” based on the policies in place at the time of the incident... ...This Court is not a super-appeals court for sexual misconduct cases, nor is it an advisor to Brown on how it should handle these messy and unfortunate situations. Moreover, the Court is an independent body and must make a decision based solely on the evidence before it.
It cannot be swayed by emotion or public opinion. After the preliminary injunction, this Court was deluged with emails resulting from an organized campaign to influence the outcome. These tactics, while perhaps appropriate and effective in influencing legislators or officials in the executive branch, have no place in the judicial process. This is basic civics, and one would think students and others affiliated with a prestigious Ivy League institution would know this. Moreover, having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court.
This is not the first high profile campus rape that Brown has faced in recent years. In 2014, Brown student Lena Sclove filed a suit against them after they failed to expel her attacker, Daniel Kopin, even after finding him responsible for performing “non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature.” He was eventually suspended, but the university still hasn’t figured out its policies.
It’s unclear when John Doe will return to campus, but he could face a second tribunal upon re-enrollment, though in Brown’s statement on Judge Smith’s decision, they make no promise to do so. They do seem to recognize the importance of clarifying and strengthening their policies, writing:
This case provided an opportunity to re-examine elements of our policy and procedures. While the court found no indication of gender bias at Brown, the court’s review of this matter and subsequent ruling has provided guidance for improving upon our commitment to fairness in our procedures. We have begun to take action to address areas where – during the course of the trial this summer – the court identified procedures that could be strengthened. We have made other adjustments based on our first year of operation under the new policy and procedures.