Lawmakers grill Tech leaders on student hearings, punishment


State legislators grilled Georgia Tech’s president Monday amid complaints that the school has unfairly punished those accused of sexual assault and other wrongdoing.

Tech has been hit with a pair of lawsuits by students who were expelled after being found responsible — unfairly they say — for sexual misconduct. The state Board of Regents overruled the school this month and reinstated one of the students. Tech is also under fire for disciplining a fraternity accused of hurling racial slurs at a black female student, something the fraternity says did not happen.

The cases’ common thread: allegations that Tech failed to provide the accused students due process.

Tech President Bud Peterson’s appearance before a subcommittee that controls university funding was the first time he has publicly addressed the controversy. It comes as the state Board of Regents is crafting systemwide policies to provide uniformity at Georgia’s 29 public colleges and universities. Tech has already moved to revamp some of its policies.

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, the panel’s chairman, blasted Tech’s policies as “Kafkaeseque” and argued they have placed taxpayers at risk by spurring costly lawsuits. He warned bluntly that schools that fail to give both sides a fair shake could see state funding cut.

“If you’ve got a bond project, if you don’t protect the students of this state with due process, don’t come looking for money. Period,” Ehrhart said.

“At Georgia Tech, we place a premium on developing students as leaders, both during their time with us on campus and after graduation. We are also fully committed to a campus environment that is inclusive and safe for our entire campus community,” Peterson told the panel.

Legislators pressed Tech repeatedly on why it takes on cases that might be criminal in nature.

“Would it not make more sense, in cases of certain behaviors that touch criminal conduct … that the University System not, and purposefully not involve itself in (investigating those cases) and get professional law enforcement to investigate,” asked Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna. “I would think this would be a relief to many administrators.”

Peterson said he did not disagree but said the matter was complex. The university disciplinary process has a lower burden of proof than criminal prosecution requires, which gives the university more leeway to take action.

One witness Monday was the mother of a student found to be have violated two Tech code sections: underage drinking and intimidation under Tech’s sexual assault policy. As a result of going through the student judicial process, she said, he now suffers from high anxiety and distrust for people.

She said the allegations against her son “rocked our world.”

She said that early in the process, Peter Paquette, who heads the school’s Office of Student Integrity, seemed to already have determined her son’s guilt.

“It seems that someone with the power to alter someone’s life forever would not wield that power recklessly,” said the woman, identified as Jane Doe.

Others also pointed to Paquette, saying he failed to interview witnesses who would back up accounts by those accused, dismissed texts and other evidence of innocence as irrelevant and, would not allow another mother into her 19-year-old son’s sexual misconduct hearing.

Paquette attended Monday’s hearing but said little.

More than a dozen members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity sat in on the hearing Monday as well. The fraternity was hit last year with a suspension in abeyance — letting it remain on campus and recruit but banning it from Greek Week, homecoming and campus social events. A black student had claimed racial slurs were yelled to her through windows in the fraternity house. The fraternity says those windows were locked or inaccessible, video surveillance did not show the student there, and a dean predetermined the fraternity’s guilt before the investigation.

The fraternity says its members have been unfairly branded as racists. An appeal has been reopened in the case. And the school has recommended removing the “suspension in abeyance” sanction altogether.

In the fraternity case, much work was done in the early stages to determine which students were responsible for what was alleged, said John Stein, Tech’s vice president for student life and dean of students.

The investigation did not identify any individual fraternity members responsible, so in the absence of an individual, the community is held responsible, Stein said. 

Legislators said such a tactic defied logic.

Last year, the state Board of Regents announced it would draw up guidelines on how schools investigate sexual misconduct. The Regents have now expanded that review to include other conduct violations.

Ehrhart said a final product is expected in the next month or so.


]]> or on Facebook at 
]]>


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Errors in financial, housing red tape can snarl first day on campus
Errors in financial, housing red tape can snarl first day on campus

The fall semester often begins with familiar complaints from some students and parents on many college campuses. The school didn’t properly process the student’s financial paperwork. The college erred and the student has nowhere to live on campus. This year was no different for some metro Atlanta campuses. More than 150 Clark Atlanta University...
DeKalb Schools: Recent departures highlight administrative turnover
DeKalb Schools: Recent departures highlight administrative turnover

The DeKalb County School District has confirmed in the last two weeks two departures from the superintendent’s staff cabinet, high-ranking officials in charge of key departments. Chief of Staff Ramona Tyson will be stepping into a new role with the school board, according to an announcement during the Sept. 10 DeKalb County Board of Education...
School systems find inexpensive safety alternatives
School systems find inexpensive safety alternatives

Not all aspects of school safety have to be expensive. That’s the message some local schools are sending out as districts across the state and country focus on that topic. Although technology such as cameras and key-card entry systems, and highly trained personnel such as police officers and counselors require a considerable amount of funding...
Schools try to thwart a troubling trend: childhood suicide
Schools try to thwart a troubling trend: childhood suicide

Doris Adhuze saw no signs on April 21, 2017, that her son planned to take his life. Jovany, she said, was a black teen from a two-parent household known for high-fiving friends and teachers, and quietly buying lunch for students who needed one. Still, she found him hanging from a coat hook on his closet door about 10 minutes after the 13-year-old arrived...
Atlanta school board considers goals for 2018-19 year
Atlanta school board considers goals for 2018-19 year

This year will be all about planning for the Atlanta Board of Education. The school board is finalizing its goals for the 2018-2019 year, even though school began Aug. 1. The proposed goals, which the board approved tentatively earlier this  month but  must still approve via a final vote, are:  To develop a user-friendly community...
More Stories