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Editorial Board: Stanford should not prioritize its image over its students

Editorial Board: Stanford should not prioritize its image over its students

This has been one of the most eventful Dead Weeks during our time at this university, and the decisions made by the administration in the past few days have left us asking if Stanford cares at all about its students, our well-being or the issues that matter to us.

On Monday, a female graduate student filed a civil lawsuit against Stanford, charging the University with mishandling sexual assault cases, and the University released a public statement in response on Thursday. On Friday, we learned that the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band has been suspended from all activities through spring quarter and effectively dismantled, to be reformulated minus all of the things that make Band Band. Later that evening, after sending out admissions decisions, the University announced — with little explanation — that it will no longer be releasing early admissions statistics.

While these issues are not all equal in significance, Stanford’s handling of all three incidents seems to demonstrate a clear prioritization of the University’s image over the well-being of its students.

Stanford responds to sexual assault mishandling lawsuit: Thursday, Dec. 8 around 10 p.m.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday, a female graduate student alleged that the University mishandled complaints that she and three other women had been sexually and physically assaulted by the same male Stanford student. The University released a public statement in response to the lawsuit that included an unprecedented amount of detail surrounding not only the plaintiff’s Title IX case but also the other women’s reports of sexual misconduct.

Under FERPA, the University has long refused to provide any information about specific sexual misconduct or assault cases or the ways they have been handled. Yet in this case, given the plaintiff’s allegations about her own situation and “the complexity of the allegations in the Complaint,” the University chose to publicize a detailed report “to provide the basis for [its statement’s] specific denials and affirmative defenses.” Stanford News published the report under the title “Information for the Stanford Community about Jane Doe Lawsuit.”

Yet, when the statement publicly advertised by the University includes details such as “Mr. X demanded that Plaintiff give him oral sex” and “[Mr. X] was upset, and eventually [Plaintiff] went over to him and began to stroke his face,” it’s hard to see the statement as a step toward productive transparency or to understand why that level of detail is necessary for the benefit of the Stanford community. While the response to an allegation filed in court may be nominally public, the University’s choice to publish such extensive, personal detail instead of an abridged version on its own widely accessed site seems insensitive to the survivors of these alleged assaults.

Rather than addressing the problem of how it handles sexual assault, Stanford instead seems willing to protect its own image at all costs – even at the risk of endangering the well-being of the students and alumni involved in the case. While the University refuses to release information on issues ranging from admissions to the formation of its alcohol policy, it is, ironically, willing to share the sordid details of a student’s sexual assault case for the sake of winning a lawsuit.

Stanford issues a public statement suspending Band: Friday, Dec. 9 around 4 p.m.

On Friday, Stanford released a public statement suspending all Band activities through the remainder of this academic year. After having been under alcohol probation and a travel ban since May 2015, the Band was found to have violated “university alcohol, Title IX and organizational conduct policies.”

The timing of the announcement reflects a complete disregard for the students in Band. Members were asked to start clearing out items from Band Shak on Friday of Dead Week, a time that administrators are well aware is one of high stress. In the midst of preparing for finals, students have been grieving the loss of a community, as indicated in posts on social media.

As with the hard alcohol policy and the postponement of (and alterations to) Full Moon on the Quad, the University’s decision on the Band is impossible to separate from recent negative press surrounding its sexual assault policies, given the University’s censorship of the Band’s more raunchy traditions. Though the University has denied any such connection, this perception is widespread, and we find it concerning that the University has chosen to ignore it rather than engage with students and share actual progress made in reforming its procedures and policies regarding sexual assault.

Instead, Stanford has turned its attention to eroding the student-defined, “wacky” culture of the University. Curiously, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman claims to still want to maintain Band’s “irreverence” while citing the Organization Conduct Board’s (OCB) charge of “disregard for university policy and administrative directives” as the core reason leading up to the suspension.

Whether the timing of the Band announcement was meant to overshadow the news of the lawsuit or whether the University genuinely believes that Band’s suspension will sanitize its image with regards to the negative press surrounding its sexual assault policies, the decision certainly did not have students in mind.

Stanford withholds early admissions statistics: Friday, Dec. 9 around 9:30 p.m.

The University reversed course on another tradition on Friday when it declined to release early admissions statistics for the Class of 2021. Stanford provided no explanation for the decision, and in an email to The Daily, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw explicitly stated, “This is not a policy change,” emphasizing that releasing numbers to The Daily in the past has been “exceptional.”

Yet, with Stanford News also having released reports on early admissions numbers for the classes of 2017-20, calling this year’s silence consistent seems less than honest. In addition, the lack of early admissions data produces no clear benefits, besides protecting the University’s image. The topic of the increasing exclusivity of “elite” schools like Stanford has sparked valuable public debate about whether or not universities should celebrate their selectivity.

Although the change in admissions data policy is hardly a story when compared with the sexual assault lawsuit and the Band statement, all three events are indicative of a larger issue: the University administration’s hypersensitivity to issues involving its public brand, often resulting in a complete disregard for the well-being of its students.

***

Last year, the Daily’s Editorial Board called for greater transparency from the administration. But we have continued to see top-down administrative decisions and a lack of consideration for students. Instead of providing real transparency into issues and decisions that students care about, the University has chosen to be “open” about the wrong things: the results of inaccessible administrative decisions, to which students are given little opportunity to respond, and the details of the personal lives of victims of sexual assault.

We don’t know why the University decided to release the Band decision during Dead Week or why early admission numbers weren’t publicized. Perhaps Stanford has a reason for publicizing copious personal details about the Title IX cases involved in Monday’s lawsuit. Or maybe both public statements were the University’s way of responding to the 38th edition of the Fountain Hopper, the Stanford-centered email newsletter that, while sometimes sensational and tabloid-esque, often shares our motives in keeping the University accountable.

Stanford needs to address its problems directly and respond in straightforward terms to the student body. Regardless of the reasoning behind its administrative decisions, the University can’t continue throwing press releases at the issues in a less than candid attempt to maintain its brand. If Stanford really cares about its students, an entire student community wouldn’t be grieving the weekend before finals, and affected parties in sexual assault and misconduct cases would not be publicly targeted by the University.

So even though The Daily’s Editorial Board has tried before, we’re going to try again. This is our appeal to new and incoming leadership, to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and to incoming Provost Persis Drell: Show us that our voices matter. So many of us came to Stanford for its unconventionality, the brilliant irreverence of its community. Over the past year, more and more, those qualities have felt unwelcome, that community ignored and hollowed out. We don’t see the decisions and statements of this past week as just poorly thought out or tone-deaf — to this Editorial Board and many others in the student body, these actions stand in direct opposition to the culture of a university we want to call home.

— Vol. 250 Editorial Board

About Vol. 250 Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Kylie Jue '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinion Michael Gioia '17, Head Copy Editor Stephanie Chen '18 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at eic@stanforddaily.com.
  • Manowaffle

    It’s a bizarre world when the university holds the Band to one standard and frats to another.

  • RootyTootyPointAndShooty

    The Stanford band hazed its members…

  • #Truthprevails

    That statement is inaccurate and quite simply is unreflective of the band as it stands today.

  • David Stringfellow

    Or holds frats to “no” standard, right?

  • FormerBand

    It’s not, but it literally is nothing threatening and you can say no any time you want. Hazing isn’t always the terrible thing the media tells you.

  • FormerBand

    Your kidding, right? Multiple fraternities have been either kicked off campus or put on probation in the last couple years.

  • Anonymous

    I am a parent of a student who was rejected in the early admissions process. The rejection did hit my child badly. I understand Stanford is very selective and the results should be expected. But not releasing early admissions numbers because it hurts their image is not right. I hope they do it soon. It will provide a sense of closure for students who were outright rejected.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like this argument is inconsistent, and the school is very much trying to protect and help its students. With the sexual assault case, many people were angry with how poorly handled some of the previous cases have been, so how did they respond this time? When a complaint was sent in, they PUBLICLY released ALL of the information available, while keeping the victims anonymous, so that others could see and understand their decision. They were being open this time, not trying to hide anything. Is that not progress? As far as the band goes, if you want an institution to protect its students, how do you propose that be done without authority? The band has blatantly disregarded rules, and this craziness is very much what makes the band what it is, however if such craziness can lead to the very actions you want Stanford to protect you from, how do you propose they do that? They can’t just pick and choose cases and organizations that seem to be ok and others that should be controlled. They are doing the best they can and I am quite proud of them. Although the Early Admissions thing doesn’t make much sense to me..

  • anonymous

    Why doesn’t the Daily write a Editorial Board opinion about a Student Professor who constantly make fun of Stanford and its students through her tweets and media interviews? Does the Daily team consist only of her followers? I thought USC has the worst journalism classes and students – I was wrong!

  • review

    The Administration does not care AT ALL about the students – your child will be happier elsewhere. Consider them lucky to be rejected.

  • review

    Well said. Does the Administration care at all? Are they listening? Or just sure that students and money will keep coming if they keep up their brand? Smart prospective students should realize there are other universities that do value students and go elsewhere.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like this University is incredible, and does value its students greatly. But I believe people are confusing the “winds of freedom” into thinking that is freedom to do whatever you want. Drinking alcohol if you are under 21, having organizations that don’t follow University Policy, etc. The “winds of freedom” refer to the EDUCATIONAL FREEDOM and many opportunities that this university offers at an unparalleled level, from amazing research opportunities to encouraging students to follow their desires. How would you prefer the university react to these growing issues?

  • Huh

    Lol wut? The university has essentially killed off social life with its new rules and standards on Greeks. All-campus parties are dead, they won’t approve any but the most plain vanilla party themes, they kicked SAE out of their house, basically all fraternities and sororities have been on probation in the last few years, and they have to write 100-page reports each year justifying their reason for continued existence.

    Unless you mean that the Band gets it easier than fraternities do, which it does. The real group that skates free are the co-ops but you can only assume they’re next.

  • Agree

    It builds group cohesion very well, actually, which is why basically all organizations do what you could define as hazing.

  • Stanford Student

    Thank you, Daily. While I feel it is the legal council’s job to protect the brand of Stanford, it is the University President and administration’s job to do the right thing. Issues cannot be improved on this campus until wrongdoing is admitted. While many administrators are working hard with students, many at the highest levels are not. Saying “we would like to hear from students and work to make campus better” means little when preceded by “we deny all allegations of mishandling cases.”

    When people ask me what state my school is in, I would prefer to answer “California” instead of “Denial.” Please do better, Stanford. You welcomed us in and told us we were home. Believing us and understanding that there is WORK to do is the first step toward a better Stanford. I want to be proud of my school, not ashamed of it.

  • Anonymous

    “however if such craziness can lead to the very actions you want Stanford to protect you from” – Have you ever heard of anything to give you legitimate reason to believe the band is harmful to students?

  • Anonymous

    I never meant to say that the band was harmful, it is all about this cause and effect chain that has been created. Sexual assault has been largely linked to alcohol, and the band (among many other organizations, I don’t mean to just single them out) have been very lax with alcohol regulation. I’m not saying the band was harmful at all, but they also definitely weren’t following policies that they should have been.

  • Joe Citizen

    This editor does not seem to understand the connection between people screaming at the the administration they do not take sexual assault seriously, and their subsequent bans on everything that tends to lead to more accusations of sexual assault.

    I don’t doubt they are worried about the school’s image, but they have to worry about that – instead of looking at the administration as the enemy, I hope students will view those of their fellow students who are “activists”, ie, those who complain endlessly about sexual assault – which is actually very rare on the campus – as the root of the problem.

  • Joe Citizen

    I would also like to point out, the complaint about Stanford releasing it’s Answer to the sexual harassment lawsuit is very bizarre to me. Quoting the author:

    “Yet, when the statement publicly advertised by the University includes details such as “Mr. X demanded that Plaintiff give him oral sex” and “[Mr. X] was upset, and eventually [Plaintiff] went over to him and began to stroke his face,” it’s hard to see the statement as a step toward productive transparency or to understand why that level of detail is necessary for the benefit of the Stanford community. While the response to an allegation filed in court may be nominally public, the University’s choice to publish such extensive, personal detail instead of an abridged version on its own widely accessed site seems insensitive to the survivors of these alleged assaults.”
    So here you have “The Editorial Board” of a newspaper complaining that public records were put on a website, because to do so “seems insensitive” to these folks – it’s good to point out here, NO ONE HAS NAMED THE PEOPLE INVOLVED – but merely putting out the reports is “insensitive”.

    This boggles my mind – The Editorial Board favors keeping the public entirely in the dark about what Stanford’s defense will be, apparently.

    It seems clear this complaint is not based on anything except the fact the woman’s actions undercut her case, and The Editorial Board does not want that widely known, because they have a political agenda. Other commenters have accused them of being mouthpieces for the extremists, particularly Michele Dauber, and this seems to be true. Hannah Knowles wrote a fawning bio of Dauber a little while back, titled “Woman of Steel” which did not fully address the fact Dauber has repeatedly presented false narratives – about the Brock Turner case, about Judge Aaron Persky, about the women featured in the film “The Hunting Ground” – to promote her cause.
    In fact, the Answer posted on the Stanford website provides very valuable information to the public – far, far more than this editorial – about the circumstances of the recently filed lawsuit, and, unless the Administration is flat out lying, it shows the lawsuit is bogus, yet another spurious Title lX complaint cooked up by Michele Dauber, by befriending a young woman who was not inclined to take action on her own – SHE ONLY IDENTIFIED THE ALLEGED ASSAILANT A YEAR AFTER THE ALLEGED ATTACK , AFTER DAUBER BECAME INVOLVED TO ACT AS HER ADVOCATE.

    Another interesting tidbit – one of the women agreed to an informal resolution after the alleged assailant made a complaint against her, using a text she sent him to apologize (does not say precisely for what) for some kind of sexual misconduct towards him.
    And finally, I note that after Mr. X was banned from campus, the accuser said she thought she saw him at a café , and notified Dauber and the cops to try to get him arrested – it turns out, he’s dating a woman student and the accuser put the cops onto her as someone X might be visiting -the new girlfriend could not be located, but when contacted by email said “No comment” and she declined to talk to anyone.

    In other words, the old girlfriend has the right, and attempts to very vigorously enforce the right, to keep him from seeing his new girlfriend – though there is no indication he harassed old girlfriend or put her in fear of an actual assault of any type
    Frankly Editorial Board, this is information the campus and outside community badly needs to s

  • why?

    i do not understand the motives behind not releasing the early numbers.

    Are applications numbers lower than expected (or maybe down from last year?). I highly doubt that, but even if that is the case, this is hardly a reason to withhold the data.

    Or maybe the number of apps increased tremendously and for some reason Stanford does not want to feed into the whole selectivity frenzy? To me this does not make sense at all.

    This lack of transparency is definitely weird and it seems unnecessary. Creates further tension and discontent with the administration for no reason.

  • Anonymous

    Or, there was a significant drop in female applicants in the early rounds.Disclosing lower numbers would require an explanation from Mr Shaw. That could worsen the situation in the regular cycle.

  • kelly windsor

    There’s a fair amount of outrage from women LSJUMB alumns. No one claiming that things were perfect, but a strong feeling that the LSJUMB is one of the safest spaces on campus. And to dismantle the band when the incoming band management is 100% women, sounds like an administration that isn’t paying attention.

  • Joe Dew

    A potential reason for withholding the early action numbers may be rooted in the desire to mitigate the “selectivity arms race.” Transparency is one thing but quantifying the exclusivity of various universities only focuses attention on the selectivity of the institution and not its other merits. As a high school parent, I know how much unwarranted anxiety all this selectivity creates among applicants. I support Stanford if its intention is to end this madness and focus instead on its many other virtues beyond being the hardest school to get in.

  • Joe Citizen

    Your comment does not make much sense to me – first off, you don’t actually offer any evidence they have mishandled any cases, – you seem to take it as a given – but what is the evidence? You say “issues cannot be improved until wrongdoing is admitted” – but there is no evidence that issues need improving – perhaps a shocking thought to you, but the truth is, sexual assault has gone on as long as mankind, before even – and will continue forever – the fact it happens here too does not mean there are any “issues” or that they CAN be improved.

  • Anonymous

    If that were really the case, then why not come out and say it – instead Mr Shaw gives out a statement that is flatly wrong as this article points out. This is what feeds the narrative that administration is not being honest. Shaw also says he will release numbers after regular decisions, if he is ok releasing then why not now. ?

  • Stanford Student

    Hello Joe Citizen,

    I wonder if you attend Stanford University as a student and know of anyone who has experienced sexual violence on this campus. If not, I would recommend reading the DOJ’s complaint filed against the University, as a few examples of what happens here. If you are a student here, let me know if you are genuinely interested in getting involved as a student here; I’m happy to offer some suggestions.

    Your comment about sexual violence occurring as long as “mankind” have been around is likely not false. I do not see that as a reason it should be acceptable to harm someone else. Further, I am concerned in this particular case about what happens to students AFTER they are violated, which is where the University gets involved.

  • Joe Citizen

    Do you mean DOJ complaint or DOE complaint? Do you have a link for it?

  • DanS

    I am a townie who has attended many events on campus over a 25 year span. All the groups (dance, theater, music, sports) maintain high levels of performance standards except the band. The low performance standard, vulgarity, and childish, disrespectful behavior of the band have been tolerated far too long. I don’t want the band to be like the militaristic bands of other schools, but I do want them to exhibit one thing in common with other Stanford organizations – excellence.

  • Anonymous

    Correlation does not imply causation. Germany allows drinking at a much younger age and has alcohol present everywhere, yet sexual assault is much more rare than in the U.S. Culture and social norms are a more significant factor in sexual assaults than alcohol, but those are harder to change, so the talking point that “alcohol causes rape” is promulgated and accepted.

    If an organization is lax about underage drinking, then sure, address that. But don’t assume connections that aren’t there.

  • Stanford Student

    Here is the complaint that is being handled at the DOJ level: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3232793/Doe-v-Stanford-Sexual-Assault-Lawsuit.pdf

  • Joe Citizen

    Thanks for the link – this does sound very serious and seems to have 3 accusers. I have to admit my skepticism of some accusations is less with this – but these are so serous, with 3 victims, now I am wondering what went on with the police? These could all still be prosecuted I would think.