Appeal of Judiciary Decision Raises Questions

Yesterday, President G.P. "Bud" Peterson met with several groups including students, administrators and alumni regarding the decision to lift the sanction of a student organization imposed last fall. His action, based upon an independent review of the appeal, was informed by the finding that the sanction recommended by Undergraduate Judiciary Cabinet — a sanction subsequently accepted by the Office of Student Integrity and upheld on appeal to the Dean of Students — was improperly imposed under the Student Code of Conduct.

The president also addressed a number of questions specific to the decision including:

How could the process be characterized as fair, yet the sanctions were dropped?
The independent review was conducted by an appellate team led by the Honorable Leah Ward Sears, retired chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. The appeal was not a re-hearing of arguments, but an examination of the documents, exhibits, and transcripts from the original hearing, as well as additional testimony submitted by the fraternity. While conceding that some procedural safeguards “were not adhered to properly,” the report states, “in reviewing the recording and transcript of the hearing itself and the subsequent findings of the UJC panel, we do not believe that Phi Delta Theta was deprived of due process in this matter …. Parties are entitled to a fair hearing—not a perfect hearing.”

In the hearing, the Undergraduate Judiciary Cabinet (UJC) concluded three Findings of Fact: (1) that the discriminatory conduct of August 11, 2015, occurred; (2) that the discriminatory conduct of July 2, 2015, occurred; and (3) that the fraternity’s leadership was not complicit in either of these instances. The UJC “found a preponderance of evidence that the acts detailed in the complainant and witness testimony occurred,” yet were “undertaken by individuals, under their own will, who have failed to come [forth] in light of these events.”

Though the Sears report refuted each of the fraternity’s grounds for appeal, it did note an inconsistency between the UJC’s findings and its recommendation. Under the existing Code of Conduct, organizations may be sanctioned only when its leadership is complicit in the violations. The UJC found that leadership was not complicit; therefore, there was no basis for sanctions and were misapplied in this case.

Has Georgia Tech considered amending the Student Code of Conduct to establish collective responsibility even when organizational leadership is not complicit?
Georgia Tech continues to review its student conduct policies. Earlier this month, the Faculty Senate approved modifications to the Student Code that addressed process concerns and appellate rights, among other items. More recently, the University System of Georgia released its first draft for two policies — student conduct and sexual conduct — intended to apply for all units, Georgia Tech included, in the USG. The Board of Regents will consider these proposals at its March 9 meeting, and Georgia Tech will further refine its policies in light of USG standards.

How can I learn more about this issue?
Those with further concerns are encouraged to read the report prepared by retired Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. To address further questions surrounding the Student Code of Conduct and associated judiciary process, President Peterson will be scheduling a number of discussion/information sessions. Those groups that are interested may contact Archie Ervin in the Institute Diversity at institutediversity@gatech.edu.

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