Latest News from Williams

The lawsuit against Williams, about which I have written previously, was delayed until the accused student exhausted his appeals at the college. The result: the college granted his appeal. It remanded the case to the original hearings panel—which promptly found him guilty again. The result was an amended complaint, which you can read here.

A quick summary of the case, which operated on three levels:

(1) Both parties to the case were unappealing. But unappealing students deserve fair treatment just as much as appealing ones.

(2) The accuser was a Williams employee, but received kid-gloves treatment throughout by Williams—in a way that would have been inconceivable if the employee were a man and the student he allegedly mistreated a woman.

(3) The employee had a pattern of filing what appear to have been retaliatory complaints against the student. Williams not only refused to treat the complaints as retaliatory, but refused to consider the effects of the first complaint’s failure on the employee’s credibility for the second complaint.

Beyond the troubling elements from the original complaint, the amended complaint raises four new areas of concern with how Williams handled the case:

(1) Credibility issues don’t matter, at least when the accuser’s credibility is in question. The involvement of Williams’ disciplinary process in this couple’s relationship came after a fight at a party (when the employee slapped the student). The employee (who risked losing her job if the student reported her) then claimed that she had written course papers for the accused student. He was charged with violating Williams’ academic rules—but was eventually found not guilty.

It would seem obvious that having falsely accused her ex-boyfriend of improper behavior once would weaken the employee’s credibility in any other claims she made about her ex-boyfriend. That’s especially so in a case like this one. The employee initially charged the accused student with cheating (after she slapped him). Then, after he charged her with stalking, the employee filed a complaint that he had “displayed abusive behavior” in their relationship. Only in the midst of that investigation did she file a sexual assault complaint—about an incident in which there were no witnesses, and that (by her own admission) came on one night in the middle of the relationship, with no impact on the relationship.

The Williams disciplinary panel in the sexual assault case not only elected not to connect the accuser’s refuted allegation with the sexual assault case, it tried to revive her credibility. It conceded the accused student wasn’t guilty of academic misconduct—despite the employee’s claim (after slapping him) to the contrary. But it added that there was not “a preponderance of evidence to suggest that [the employee] falsely accused you, as it is possible she believed she had written papers for you.” [emphasis added]

This is an extraordinary statement. In trying to prop up the employee’s credibility in the sexual assault case, the Williams panel portrayed her as delusional—someone who might have “believed” something that even Williams conceded wasn’t true. If the panel conceded that (at best) the employee was delusional, how could it credit her claim about sexual assault? Williams hasn’t said.

(2) Playing fast and loose with sexual assault definitions. The original panel found that it was at least 50.01 percent certain that the accused student hadn’t obtained “affirmative consent” for sexual intercourse one night in the middle of a nearly two-year relationship. For the 2015-2016 academic year, Williams had redefined sexual assault to include an “affirmative consent” provision (which effectively requires the accused student to provide his innocence). The only problem: the incident for which the accused student was charged occurred in October 2014, or before Williams dramatically expanded what constituted sexual assault. At the time, Williams required what it described as “effective” consent, a regime in which “both parties have the obligation to communicate consent or the lack of consent.”

Williams’ appeals officer admitted that “the two policies are different, including with respect to the requirement for affirmative consent.” She therefore granted the accused student’s appeal and remanded his case to the original panel—which promptly found him guilty again, on grounds that he had not obtained “effective” consent. In other words: the same hearing panel that initially found the accused student guilty essentially substituted “effective” for “affirmative” in its judgment despite the substantial difference between the two standards. (The wording changed from it was “more likely than not [the accused student] did not have affirmative consent to sexual intercourse with” the employee to “it was more likely than not that [the employee] did not provide effective consent.”)

The issue of colleges finding students guilty of standards adopted after the incident in question has appeared with disturbing regularity—most recently in cases at Brown and Western New England. Williams tried to get around any legal problem by claiming that its pre-affirmative consent standard “used other language . . . to express the same concept.” This is very similar to the argument that Brown offered, unsuccessfully, before Judge Smith.

(3) Limiting information. Williams hires an “investigator” to conduct initial interviews; the “investigator” then prepares a report for the hearing panel. The accused student asked for transcripts of interviews conducted by the “investigator” in his case—Allyson Kurker, whose notorious performance in the Amherst case raises questions as to why Williams would have hired her.

Williams initially promised the transcripts, but then turned over only the transcripts for two of the three interviews with the accused student. The rationale? “The college procedures do not provide for giving interview transcripts to the parties to a sexual misconduct disciplinary proceeding. The interview transcripts are not routinely provided to the college.” Why wouldn’t a college like Williams want to provide an accused student with this obviously relevant information?

(4) Reports from a Williams whistleblower don’t inspire confidence. The amended complaint includes several quotes from a pseudonymous source who says that he had served in college disciplinary cases. He reported that the training Williams panelists received was “not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, not even close,” and that panelists were taught that “the reputation of the college is the number one priority,” to such an extent that Williams “makes things up as it goes along.”

Williams’ next filing is due on March 10.

One thought on “Latest News from Williams

  1. That Williams would seek to protect its reputation might cut both ways, both against the accuser and the accused. The lack of open discovery is a tell-tale sign that colleges and universities know that they are not dealing with students fairly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s