Widgets Magazine

V.P.’s case file subject of error

Gobaud learned of violation through clerical mishap

In an incident called “profoundly regrettable” by the vice provost for student affairs, student body president David Gobaud learned that his running mate, former vice president Jay de la Torre, faced possible suspension for a suspected Honor Code violation only after he was mistakenly handed de la Torre’s case file late this summer in the Judicial Affairs office, where he was serving as a panelist on another case.

The claim, confirmed by top University officials and de la Torre ’10, has raised questions about how the Office of Judicial Affairs protects students’ privacy, as well as communication between de la Torre and Gobaud ’08, M.S. ’10 before and after their election, and Gobaud’s efforts as president to encourage reform to parts of the judicial process—efforts that he says were appropriate even after he learned that his vice president was in the Judicial Affairs process.

Gobaud offered the explanation last Friday in response to questions about when he learned that his vice president was alleged to have plagiarized code in a computer science class last fall—an Honor Code violation whose standard penalty is a quarter-long suspension and 40 hours of community service. De la Torre was found responsible of the violation by a Judicial Affairs panel, received the standard penalty, appealed it and was denied at a final hearing earlier this quarter. He resigned at a Nov. 11 meeting with student leaders and President Hennessy, and explained his suspension in a public statement the next day.

“I was shocked,” Gobaud said about the day in late summer when, he said, a Judicial Affairs staff member mistakenly handed him the wrong case file. He said when he opened it and saw de la Torre’s name on the paperwork, “my jaw dropped. The person who handed it to me, it was obviously like, ‘Wait a minute.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think I should have this.’ She took it back.”

Several top University officials have responded to the mistake that apparently tipped Gobaud off to his vice president’s case, which, like all Judicial Affairs cases, is promised in the University’s 1997 student judicial charter to be kept confidential by the office.

“It is clear that multiple parties made mistakes,” said University President John Hennessy in an e-mail to The Daily, although he stopped short of naming those parties.

Provost John Etchemendy called it “a less serious mistake than if [the office] lost the file, handed it to somebody who wasn’t on a panel,” but said the incident was still “a serious mistake.”

“I am aware that an extremely unfortunate error occurred when David, as a judicial affairs panelist, was given the wrong file in preparation for a hearing during the summer,” said Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman in an e-mail to The Daily. “As you know, confidentiality in the judicial process is, and always has been, of utmost importance, and this mistake, while clearly unintentional, is profoundly regrettable.”

Gobaud has gone to lengths to explain the constraints he faced after learning about the case, noting that when he became a judicial affairs panelist last fall, he signed the standard confidentiality agreement saying that “information regarding any student’s disciplinary status is not to be discussed with anyone… outside the judicial hearing without the written authorization of the student.”

Gobaud said that agreement meant he could only seek advice about the incident from Judicial Affairs staff members and the associate vice provost who oversees Judicial Affairs, Christine Griffith. Griffith told The Daily that panelists are expected to take their concerns to office staff. Gobaud said he believed he could not take the issue to any other administrators.

The day he saw the case file, Gobaud said, “Jay and I talked, and he told me about his case.”

“David sat down with me because he was suspicious something was up, and I told him about my situation,” de la Torre said in an e-mail to The Daily. The two said they then started planning a transition for after de la Torre’s resignation, which took place some two months later.

“[Gobaud] was a good friend and respected my privacy, so he didn’t discuss the situation with anyone I wasn’t comfortable sharing it with,” de la Torre said. Gobaud maintains he would have faced a Fundamental Standard violation charge if he told anyone else about the case.

Confidentiality, Reexamined

Griffith sat down with The Daily and acknowledged that the mistake has prompted a review of confidentiality protocol in the Office of Judicial Affairs.

“I think given the weight of that responsibility that we feel in terms of confidentiality—that’s the highest charge we have in the office, no question,” she said. “Given how seriously we take that responsibility, sure, it’s huge when there’s a human error.”

She described the review process prompted by this summer’s incident, the likes of which have never, to her knowledge, happened before.

“We review what our protocols are, we try to determine, are there ways we can implement better protocols? And then we just reiterate the need [to staff] to continue to be as committed to that part of our work as we always have been,” Griffith said.

She said there have been no major protocol changes, but two practices have been reemphasized. One is requiring panelists to sign a confidentiality agreement, as Gobaud did.

“The fact that they agree when they volunteer to serve in this capacity to keep all information confidential is a big part of what we do,” Griffith said.

The second practice is the electronic document system the office switched to earlier this summer, which allows panelists to access case files on a secure server. Griffith said the system “serves us well.” Panelists can still request hard copies of case files, as Gobaud did for the case file he was supposed to pick up that day.

Jamie Pontius-Hogan, a judicial adviser who works in the office, explained the protocol for picking up file in person.

“We provided a kind of sealed envelope and they [the panelist] would walk into the front desk,” she said. “The person sitting at the front desk would say, you know, ‘I need to see your ID,’ and they’d sign the little sign-out form and sign out the form and take the packet.”

Despite the fact that someone apparently gave Gobaud the wrong case file that day, Griffith said she is confident about efforts to protect students’ privacy as promised in the judicial charter.

“No, I don’t have concerns about students’ privacy being at risk,” Griffith said. “I have all the confidence that we’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure that we don’t have a repeat.”

Vetting de la Torre

Gobaud and de la Torre have both offered descriptions of their communication before and after their election, and de la Torre has explained why, despite facing a possible suspension because of the plagiarism claim against him, he still ran.

“At the end of the day, I just wanted to help people,” de la Torre wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “I always saw Stanford as this safe, perfect space. The stories I heard about students with mental health challenges feeling alone and stories [of] girls getting raped really got to me, and I wanted to do something about it.

“I’ve sat down and thought about whether or not running and staying despite everything I was going through was the right decision,” he added, “and I’m still struggling with that.”

He told The Daily three weeks ago, “I thought if I made my case—expressed my remorse—well enough to the judicial affairs panel, I could mitigate the consequences. I was very optimistic.”

Gobaud said that when he was evaluating de la Torre as a running mate last year, he did not ask him if he had any “outstanding judicial affairs.” Gobaud said he did, however, talk extensively with de la Torre about the time commitment necessary for student body executives, and “nothing ever came up that caused me to have any doubt that he would be able to fulfill his duty.”

At Tuesday’s ASSU Undergraduate Senate meeting, Gobaud also pointed to the Judicial Affairs language that indicated to him it was possible for de la Torre to delay a suspension.

According to the Judicial Affairs Penalty Code, “responding students are responsible for providing convincing evidence that a suspension would have an unduly harsh impact—for instance, intense and unavoidable public attention—for the Panel’s consideration. In rare instances, a quarter of suspension may be postponed for a quarter, or at the most, two quarters.”

Senator Alex Katz ’12 asked, “Is this the reason, the sole reason, the announcement didn’t happen earlier?”

“This is one of the reasons,” Gobaud said. “He might have received an alternate sanction.”

“Did you really not advise him against that, telling him that was probably not a reasonable expectation?” Katz asked.

“I actually did tell him I didn’t think it was possible,” Gobaud said.

After an appeal this fall, de la Torre’s suspension remained set for winter quarter.

Of the 367 cases brought to Judicial Affairs between 2004 and 2007—most of which were heard, though some were dropped—one has ended with a reduced penalty after an appeal, according to statistics on the office’s Web site.

Gobaud’s Judicial Reform

Meanwhile, students at Tuesday’s Senate meeting pressed Gobaud on his efforts as president to encourage reform to parts of the judicial process, efforts that he says were appropriate even after he learned that his vice president faced suspension.

Gobaud said he wasn’t ready to specify what those efforts were, but later outlined them to The Daily.

He said he had begun talking to administrators who work in or oversee the Office of Judicial Affairs since the spring—and continued after learning about de la Torre’s case—regarding ideas to modify the judicial process.

One, he said, is to change the current practice of assigning the same judicial adviser to the “complaining party”—say, a professor or T.A.—and the responding student, which, he said, risks confidentiality breaches.

The other idea, he said, is creating a resource outside of the office to help students through the “inherently stressful” judicial process.

Gobaud said he sent an e-mail to President Hennessy, Provost Etchemendy and Vice Provost Boardman shortly after de la Torre’s public announcement, both explaining the situation and discussing his ideas.

“Seeing Jay go through the process helped shed light on the Judicial Affairs process” for him, he told The Daily.

He also called a meeting in early fall between some Senate and Graduate Student Council (GSC) members at his Munger apartment to discuss the Board of Judicial Affairs nominee issue that spurred weeks of disagreement in student government. There, too, he said he discussed his ideas for judicial changes.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Senator Zachary Warma ’11, who is also The Daily’s columns editor, asked Gobaud, “You did not see how involving legislative bodies in a push against the Office of Judicial Affairs just as your number two is being reviewed under Judicial Affairs, how that comes off as circumspect?”

Gobaud said the meeting was to discuss the board matter, not the office.

The Senate unanimously approved Andy Parker ’11 as Gobaud’s nominee to replace de la Torre as vice president. The group also voted 8-5 to approve Farah Abuzeid ’10 as co-chief of the executive staff, formerly Parker’s position. Appointments, however, require a two-thirds vote, so Abuzeid remains unconfirmed by the Undergraduate Senate. She was approved by the GSC two weeks ago.

Devin Banerjee contributed to this report.

About Elizabeth Titus

Elizabeth Titus was editor in chief of Volume 238 of The Stanford Daily, serving from July 2010 to January 2011. Contact her at elizabethmtitus@gmail.com.
  • Wes

    So…the system works!

  • sparky the incredible flying boy

    WHAT DID THE PRESIDENT KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT