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Director of OCES Responds to CUSG claims

Two student senators questioned the policies and procedures of Clemson University’s Office of Community and Ethical Standards (OCES) in a recent Clemson Undergraduate Student Government (CUSG) meeting. Senator Rae-Nessha White, a political science major, said OCES procedures need “more transparency,” stating that fraternities and sororities are more transparent than OCES.

“I’m not really sure what’s not transparent,” said Alesia Smith, director of OCES. “We’re not trying to hide our processes or procedures.” Smith pointed out that students can access that information online.

According to its website, OCES oversees the campus student discipline program and investigates reported violations. Smith said that the responsibility of OCES is to administer and enforce the Student Code of Conduct.

“There’s this perception that OCES has written the Student Code of Conduct …” said Smith. “As a matter of fact, that’s so untruthful.” Smith stated that Clemson’s Code of Conduct is developed as part of a community effort that must pass through several bodies. The final approval comes from the Board of Trustees, which also approves any major changes to the code of conduct.

Section VIII of the Student Code of Conduct addresses the official standard of proof in student disciplinary cases.

“Student and student organization disciplinary cases will be decided on the standard of preponderance of the evidence,” the code states. “In other words, the determination shall be made on the basis of whether it is more likely than not that the referred student violated the Student Code of Conduct.”

The second senator at the CUSG meeting said that the use of preponderance of the evidence by OCES is “unethical” and cases are decided almost as if the alleged violator is “guilty until proven innocent” instead of innocent until proven guilty.

“It’s not unethical,” said OCES Director Smith. “It’s standard.”

Smith noted that the three standards of proof are beyond a reasonable doubt, clear and convincing evidence and preponderance of the evidence. 

The beyond a reasonable doubt standard requires that one be “100% positive” about a decision. Criminal courts use beyond a reasonable doubt because the courts have the authority to incarcerate a defendant.

The clear and convincing evidence standard refers to the probability that the accused is guilty, while preponderance of the evidence rests on whether the evidence indicates that a violation “most likely” occurred.

“If 51% of the evidence point to you not being in violation of a student regulation then based upon the preponderance of the evidence, you will be found not in violation,” states the OCES website.

According to Smith, the preponderance of evidence standard is used throughout the civil court system and for university disciplinary investigations. The U.S. Department of Education mandates this standard be applied by universities in their administration of their codes

of conduct.

“There is no standard saying innocent until proven guilty,” said Smith. “In all three standards, you’re innocent until you can determine otherwise.” Smith said that the goal of OCES is to be educational and ensure that students understand that violations of Clemson’s Code of Conduct will result in consequences.

“The senator may not know, and that’s just a lack of understanding and education,” said Smith, commenting on the senator’s claim that OCES treats alleged violators as guilty until proven innocent.

Senator Robert Gunter, a civil engineering major, said that Senator White’s statements concerned the resolution to “Express Support for the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act,” a collaboration between Gunter and White.

The Tucker Hipps Transparency Act, which was proposed as legislation by state Rep. Joshua A. Putnam, would require schools to maintain online reports of investigations into alleged student misconduct for all student organizations.

“One of the most common critiques of the act is that OCES often uses ‘preponderance of the evidence,” said Gunter. “Combined with [a] lack of evidence, some senators feel OCES often excessively labels things ‘hazing.’” Based on disciplinary hearing outcomes provided by Clemson Fraternity and Sorority Life, four fraternities have been found in violation of Clemson’s hazing regulation since September 2014.

“As for transparency, by federal law we cannot disclose sanctions made for individuals,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Almeda Jacks, referring to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). “We have gone a step forward to put Greek Life organizations on the website when they have been suspended and we will eventually handle all student organizations in this manner.” Jacks stated Clemson will not make public information about individuals involved in the discipline process unless the law is changed.

In regards to the proposal of reforms at the senate meeting, Senate President Katie Abrames, a sociology major, said in an email to The Tiger that Rae-Nessha White “is the senator working with OCES.”

Commenting on if she had been contacted by CUSG regarding suggested reforms, OCES Director Alesia Smith said, “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

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