The parents of a deceasedGeorgetown University student revealed details last week of a disciplinaryhearing concerning the classmate found responsible for their son’s death.
Debbie and Jeff Shick’s son, David, died Feb. 22, 2000, from a headinjury he sustained during a campus fight. According to the Shick’s statementreleased on Nov. 20, a university hearing board instructed the student foundresponsible for their son’s death to complete a 10-page “reflection” paper,receive an alcohol evaluation and serve a semester-long suspension. Thesuspension was later postponed and never served by the student before hisgraduation. The board found the student responsible for physical assault withbodily injury, disorderly conduct and for violating an underage alcoholpolicy.
In their statement, Debbie and Jeff Shick questioned the school’sassignment of punishments in disciplinary proceedings and for its policy ofrestricting access to the proceeding’s results. The Shicks decided to releasethe disciplinary details after hearing about a sexual assault that occurred atGeorgetown in 2001, in which the university also handed down a mild punishmentto the assailant and instructed the victim to keep the results confidential.
“The climate of secrecy surrounding disciplinary hearings combined withnon-disclosure policies and confidentiality requirements allows colleges anduniversities to manipulate the process in order to preserve their reputation,”Debbie and Jeff Shick wrote.
Under a Georgetown policy, final results ofa disciplinary hearing only will be disclosed if the complainant or allegedvictim signs a confidentiality agreement. The school later revised its policy toallow parents to receive the findings if they sign a confidentiality agreement.The Shicks rejected the confidential terms, which they said would have preventedthem from sharing details of David’s death with his brother and sister.
After an 18-month legal battle, they finally obtained the results lastfall as part of a settlement agreement that resolved a lawsuit against thestudent who injured their son. According to a Georgetown Voice article,the two parties also agreed that the Shicks could disclose the informationconcerning the sanctions provided that they not release the student’s name.
The Shicks said they will contact Congress to urge it to passlegislation that would require schools to disclose information about theirdisciplinary proceedings.
“It is time to hold a student publiclyaccountable for his actions when found responsible for a violent crime,” theysaid. “It is time to hold colleges and universities accountable for upholdingtheir code of conduct.”
In a statement released by Georgetown University,Vice President of Communications Julie Bataille said the university, consistentwith its policy, has not and will not publicly release information on theseproceedings.
“We continue to believe that maintaining the confidentialityof student code of conduct proceedings and outcomes best serves our educationalmission,” she said.
SPLC View: Under the law, Georgetown University couldhave — but flatly refused — to release this information. AndGeorgetown is by no means alone. Federal lawmakers amended the FamilyEducational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) specifically to allow schools torelease campus disciplinary information about violent campus crimes. The law,however, does not require that private schools such as Georgetown do soand, as a result, very little is known about what goes on behind closed campuscourt doors. Occasionally, however, stories leak and frequently provide shockingevidence of a campus justice system that seems to have very little do withjustice. Student media can and should play a more prominent role in pressuringschools to bring public accountability to a system that is dangerously lacking.