To Whom It May Concern:
I am a Stanford student who has myself been through a case at the Office of Community Standards, and who has helped multiple friends navigate through the challenging OCS process. Throughout the many cases I have seen, I have witnessed a pattern of serious and ongoing problems within the OCS.
I am not someone with a legal background, but one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to have a strong understanding of the concepts of “due process” and “presumption of innocence”—concepts that are cornerstones of American jurisprudence and necessary parts of the best legal system in the world. These basic concepts seem to be utterly lost on the staff at the OCS. In the cases I know about, I’ve seen the OCS deny students the right to confront their accuser. I’ve seen them deny students access to exculpatory and incriminating evidence. I’ve seen them railroad students through the process and threaten to move on “without the benefit of their participation” if they attempt to seek legal counsel. I’ve even seen them break federal law in their case-handlings. For the OCS, conviction—not justice—is the ultimate objective. It’s no wonder they have a 95% conviction rate. Conviction…or “education,” as Chris Griffith likes to call it.
It is with this flawed philosophy of “education” over “legality” that the OCS has justified its systemic thrashing of the Student Charter. Indeed, the OCS does seem to be intent on educating their accused students…about how guilty they are. Where it might make sense to structure the sanctioning phase of the judicial process with an eye towards education, Chris Griffith and the OCS publicly state their mission is to make the judicial phase “less legalistic and more educational.” It’s hard to presume someone innocent through a judicial process when your primary concern is in “educating” him and not providing him with all of the protections granted under the Student Charter of 1997.
Having an attorney assist me in my case was absolutely crucial, and I recommend to all of my friends going through the process that they get an attorney as well. Unless one is in the OCS daily fighting for due process, it is virtually impossible to get a fair process without counsel. I was innocent, and was, fortunately, unanimously acquitted by my panel. That said, I feel strongly that I would have lost without the help of my representative.
The problem with the current setup is that there are, in effect, two systems of justice at the OCS. While those who are affluent enough to spend the exorbitant amount of money on an attorney are guaranteed at least a relatively fair process, those without legal representation are, unfortunately, usually railroaded through and convicted with little recourse.
Stanford’s motto is “Die Luft dur Freiheit weht”—“The Wind of Freedom Blows.” Unfortunately, that motto reads more like a punch line than a slogan. I have been utterly disillusioned with my University specifically because of the way the administration allows its students to be treated in the OCS. That said, we, as alumni, parents, and students, can do our part to make Stanford a better place. Appointing every accused student legal counsel will certainly help in that effort.
Student, Class of ‘14