Victim criticizes appeals process

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May 1, 2009

4:24 AM

When Laura Rogers ’09 was a sophomore, she reported to the administration that she had been sexually assaulted. The case went through a judicial review, which continued into her junior year. Her alleged assailant, a junior at the time of the incident, lost the initial trial and his appeal. He was asked to leave the College.

Almost two years later, Rogers says administrators told her that her assailant had been granted a degree from the College of William and Mary. The decision had come from the College’s highest administrator at the time, former College President Gene Nichol, Rogers said.

The president has the authority to overrule decisions made by the Student Conduct Council, Honor Council or administration. But Director of Student Conduct Dave Gilbert said the president rarely exercises this power.

“The way it is set up, the Board of Visitors delegates the authority for all student discipline to the College president,” Gilbert said. “Not surprisingly, the president is not involved in day-to-day conduct. But because that authority is given to the president, then technically he can do anything within that authority. I will say that my experience is the president’s office is pretty hesitant to change a ruling. They respect the process.”

During a phone call with College Dean of Students Patricia Volp, Rogers said Volp told her Nichol got involved because of the legal pressure applied by her assailant’s attorney, who was hired after the assailant lost his appeal. The only answer she received from the College concerning Nichol’s decision came through
Volp, who said that the decision was made because of “institutional concerns,” Rogers said.

“I was told the administration didn’t want to create another ‘Duke’,” she added.

Volp denies specifying what factors influenced the decision.

“I wouldn’t say ‘it is because of this,’ because that is not something I am privy too,” Volp said. “I wouldn’t talk with students about things which I know very little.”

The College rarely dismisses students permanently, Volp said. In a sexual misconduct trial, convicted
students often receive indefinite suspensions, which can be lifted once certain criteria are met by the accused student.

“Nichol wasn’t out to screw me over,” Rogers said. “Nichol’s actions kept my assailant away from me and other women, but at the same time it got it off the College’s hands. My assailant would’ve had to ask to come back, to say that he learned, to show progress. By being granted a degree, he didn’t have to do this.”

Although Nichol’s decision occurred just before he left the College in February 2008, Rogers, who enrolled at the College in 2005 and took a medical leave of absence from the school following her junior year, said the president had been asked to review the case in December 2006.

John Donaldson, the College’s assistant to the provost for legal affairs and a legal advisor on most student conduct cases, was the only member of the administration to contact Rogers about Nichol’s decision, Rogers said. This happened almost six months after the ruling had been made.

The Student Handbook does not require victims of sexual assault to be informed of progress on their cases after the appeal stage.

Due to the nature of the case, Donaldson declined to comment on his involvement.

“During this appeal, they never talked to me,” Rogers said. “Who was advocating on my behalf? They never informed me this was going on. I went through the initial hell of the judicial review, and then two years later I found out there was a change. I am upset with the lack of transparency.”

Volp disagrees with Rogers’s claim that she did not have a voice in the administration.

“There is an advocate for students at every level I am aware of,” Volp said. “It is not fair to say no one was advocating for her, or for other students.”

Upon finding out about the decision, Rogers tried to reach out to Nichol, but she said Nichol declined to speak with her. Once College President Taylor Reveley took over, Rogers tried to contact him as well, but the response was the same: Reveley declined to talk, Rogers said.

Reveley declined to comment for this story due to federal laws that protect student privacy. Nichol did not return a request for comment.

Rogers was able to schedule a meeting concerning Nichol’s decision with outgoing College Provost Geoff Feiss. After the meeting, she received a letter from Feiss stating the grounds of her assailant’s appeal. The letter — sent to Rogers Nov. 19, 2008, eight months after Nichol had left the College — was short and succinct, she said.

Feiss said in the letter that he discussed with Donaldson what information he could release to Rogers. Feiss wrote that Rogers’s assailant had appealed the findings on the College’s standard four grounds of appeal: lack of clear and convincing evidence, additional material evidence to the accused’s benefit, procedural irregularities and excessive or inappropriate sanction. The letter did not make any indication on whether or not each appeal held ground, Rogers said.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits the College from discussing the details of any particular campus disciplinary case, said College Spokesman Brian Whitson. As the victim in this case, Rogers is not bound by this law.

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