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OP-ED: Splitting The Baby - LSU’s Justice System Protected Neither Student Rights Nor Victims

This piece was submitted by a concerned student at Louisiana State University. The author has served on multiple disciplinary hearing panels and wrote this price on the condition of anonymity.

LSU’s current system of student disciplinary hearings tries to avoid total injustice in any case and, as a result, does justice in none. As has been recently highlighted in the local and national news, LSU’s response to instances of sexual violence on campus has been shockingly lenient.

Clearly, these results are abhorrent and individuals who commit acts of sexual violence have no place on a college campus. The unacceptable response by LSU comes from a variety of sources. Although it is by no means a cure-all, one problem that I encountered multiple times during my service as a panelist on LSU disciplinary cases was the tendency for panelists to compensate for the low burden of proof by reducing punishments in the sentencing phase.

In order to find a student responsible for committing an infraction, LSU requires panelists to use a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof. In other words, if the panel finds that the evidence shows that it was more likely than not that the student committed the violation, the panel will find the student responsible. Clearly, this low level of proof differs from the traditional “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases. I believe, through my firsthand experience in these proceedings, that panelists who slightly lean towards finding a student responsible but are not firmly convinced of their position will vote to convict but then reduce the penalty.

For example, in one panel I served on, the other two panelists were on the fence about whether the student had committed a serious violation. They ultimately concluded yes but issued a slap on the wrist that in no way was the proper response to their finding. For full disclosure, I did not believe that the university provided enough evidence to even reach the preponderance standard. Under their own finding, their outcome was a wholly inadequate response to what they believed happened. To me, the penalty was unwarranted because I did not believe that he had committed the action. Ultimately, the use of a preponderance standard leads to a split-the-baby mentality that prevents the process from achieving a just solution in most cases.

To fix this common issue panelists compensating for their uncertainty by issuing overly lenient sentences, SAA should raise the burden of proof that the university must provide to find a student responsible while also raising the associated penalties for violations. The current system of “we’re not sure if this student raped another student so we’ll just suspend him for a semester” is outrageous and unjust. If the student committed the act, he should be expelled permanently. Any other result would be unjust to the victim and risk additional danger to the university community. If not, a suspension is wholly unfair and will likely follow him for the rest of his life. Clearly LSU has many changes to make to provide a more just process, and hopefully it will implement this as one of them.


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