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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Turner launches task force on sexual misconduct policies

President R. Gerald Turner announced plans to launch a task force on sexual misconduct policies after two sexual assaults arrests within the last month.
Courtesy of SMU
President R. Gerald Turner announced plans to launch a task force on sexual misconduct policies after two sexual assaults arrests within the last month.

President R. Gerald Turner announced plans to launch a task force on sexual misconduct policies after two sexual assaults arrests within the last month. (Courtesy of SMU)

President R. Gerald Turner announced Friday night that a task force on sexual misconduct policies and procedures would be created in response to the recent arrests of two SMU students. His announcement has many wondering if the current judicial panel system will continue to handle felony-level cases.

Under the current policy outlined in the SMU Student Handbook, students accused of any conduct-related violations – ranging from alcohol infractions to academic dishonesty to sexual assaults – are brought to the University Conduct Review board.

According to the handbook, the Conduct Review Board is a panel made up of three students, a member of the faculty and a staff member. A panel is convened to determine whether accused students broke conduct codes.

The Handbook also states all members of the panel apply for their positions and are then selected from a pool when the Conduct Board is hearing a case. The handbook continues to state, “Every attempt will be made to ensure that board members reflect the full diversity of the university.”

“Title IX requires universities to have an internal grievance process for incidents of sexual misconduct. The student conduct code and process, similar to those at other universities across the country, serves as SMU’s internal grievance process,” Lori White, vice president of Student Affairs, said.

The Conduct Review Board allows both the complainant and defendant to make statements, bring forth evidence, and witnesses. However, neither side is allowed legal counsel during the hearings. The student handbook states that complainants and respondents “may have two people serve as support persons during the conduct hearingfor moral support.”

The panels are not open to the public and any documents presented are meant to be kept confidential. However, the district attorney and a defense lawyer are allowed to access any information revealed during the panels if the case moves to trial, according to the student handbook.

While this is all happening, the victim can make the decision on whether to go forward with a criminal or civil investigation through the legal system. External legal proceedings are entirely separate from the investigations conducted by the SMU Conduct Board.

“The university recognizes that some violations may be handled concurrently by the university and civil and/or criminal authorities. The criminal court process is separate and distinct from the student conduct review process.”

According to the student handbook, “The conduct review process, determines only violations of the Student Conduct and imposes sanctions within the University community.”

Sanctions can include expulsion, suspension, deferred suspension, probation and restitution as listed in the student handbook.

If a student reports a sexual assault to Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) or the Women’s Center, the victim is presented with his or her options, which include the ability to humanize the situation, Karen Click, director of the Women’s Center, said.

However, panels, which are non-adversarial, do not always lead to conflict resolution. A current case involving student Samuel Donald Cuba was taken to the Dallas County district attorney’s office. He was indicted in mid-September.

Cuba, was first found guilty by a conduct review panel and was held shortly after the alleged assault last February. After requesting an appeal last spring, a second panel found him not guilty.

SMU Student Body President Alex Mace said, “The reason why we have two systems – criminal system and the university review board – is because students have a responsibility to their school.”

SMU is not the only school that has a university conduct review process. In fact, White describes, almost every university – including the five she worked for before coming to SMU – has something like a Conduct Review Board.

A crucial element of the university review board is the privacy granted to the parties involved, The handbook describes that all panels are not open to the public and are solely held between the complainant, respondent and review board.

“It’s important that we have a private and effective process to deal with these issues,” Mace said.

Turner’s sexual assault task force will determine if the current review system is effective. The task force’s “focus will include not only how sexual misconduct allegations are addressed at SMU, but also how the university can strengthen prevention and education on this important topic.”

White and Kelly Compton, SMU alumna, will chair the task force. Students, faculty, administrators and victims rights advocates will also serve on the task force. President Turner released a statement Monday night saying that the Task Force will also welcome a member of District Attorney Craig Watkins’ office.

“The district attorney and I had a very productive meeting that reaffirmed our good working relationship in dealing with very difficult issues. We are pleased that the SMU Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures will benefit from participation by a member of the district attorney’s office, as well as others with specific expertise,” Turner said in a statement on Monday.

“This collaboration will be essential as we reexamine policies and procedures to address what is a challenge among colleges and universities nationwide. We will continue to work together to ensure that we are closely aligned in our efforts, sharing our common commitment to the welfare and safety of our students.”

Debbie Denmon, director of communications for the Dallas County district attorney’s Office, said that Watkins takes sexual assault very seriously.

“He doesn’t care if people are from a private or public university, if they are rich or poor – he will prosecute to the fullest extent if the defendant is guilty,” Denmon said.

The Cleary Act requires SMU to report yearly statistics of all crime on campus. Every institution has an obligation under the Cleary Act to report sexual assaults when they occur.

According to 2011 Cleary Act statistics, released by President Turner Monday, there have been 10 reported sexual assaults at SMU since 2009.

As student body president, Mace encourages all students to take this time to express how they feel about the alleged recent sexual assaults.

“If people have particular suggestions don’t even hesitate to come to our Senate meetings because we want to make sure that we are addressing these situations effectively,” Mace said.

Student Senate has the power to propose conduct code changes through a conduct revision process. The revision process allows students, faculty and staff to submit revisions to the code of conduct. Students can submit revisions from now until early November.

“I think the events on campus of the last couple of weeks have made people think differently about what is safe and what isn’t,” Mace said.  

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