A More Serious Offense

Expulsion becomes the “preferred sanction” for sexual assaults.

Student unhappiness about the handling of sexual-assault cases on college campuses nationally has led to sometimes loud, sometimes litigious conflicts. Duke students, too, have voiced their concerns, and in July, those concerns led to change.

It was then that the Office of Student Conduct’s Appellate Board agreed to make expulsion the “preferred sanction” in sexual-assault cases. The average sanction previously had been three to four semesters of suspension, a span that included the summer session when many students aren’t attending classes anyway. “What this does, though, is set the standard for the discussion so that expulsion is essentially the rule and suspension is the exception, rather than the other way around,” Stefani Jones, a senior and president of Duke Student Government, told The Chronicle.

Still, that doesn’t mean every student found responsible for a sexual assault will be expelled. (In fact, the sanction applies to undergraduates; graduate students’ and professional students’ adjudications are handled by their respective schools.) Instead, expulsion will be the standard— what the policy terms “the normative sanction expected” —and there will be some determination by the hearing panel as to whether some factor should influence a change to that standard.

The new sanction continues an evolution in the university’s policies concerning sexual misconduct. In October 2012, after months of student protest, Duke’s statute of limitations on sexual-misconduct reporting was eliminated. Now a complaint against a student may be filed at any time and is actionable until the accused student graduates. 

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