Judge orders Brown to take back student suspended for sexual misconduct

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A federal judge has ordered Brown University to reinstate a male student after finding flaws with the methods used by a university tribunal that found the student “responsible” for sexually assaulting a female student. The judge also castigated Brown community members, who engulfed him in emails demanding a certain outcome in the decision.

The male student, dubbed “John Doe” in the court proceedings, sued Brown University to let him return to class. The case came before U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith, who handed down his 84-page written decision last week.

A university tribunal determined Doe, as respondent, had been “responsible” for sexual misconduct with another student in November 2014, dubbed “Ann Roe” in documents, as complainant; the penalty would be expulsion from Brown.

Doe sued the university for breach of contract on the grounds that Brown’s disciplinary procedures used the wrong set of rules — a policy based around Title IX rather than a student code of conduct for the 2014-2015 school year.

After the bench trial, Judge Smith found on August 23 that Doe was likely to get a ruling in his favor, and granted a preliminary injunction allowing him to return for the fall semester.

That was met with an outcry from Brown community members, as the Providence Journal noted, including an opinion piece in a student publication.

“The Court is an independent body and must make a decision based solely on the evidence before it,” Judge Smith wrote in his decision. “It cannot be swayed by emotion or public opinion. After issuing the preliminary injunction, this Court was deluged with emails resulting from an organized campaign to influence the outcome. These tactics, while perhaps appropriate and effective in influencing legislators or officials in the executive branch, have no place in the judicial process.

“This is basic civics, and one would think students and others affiliated with a prestigious Ivy League institution would know this. Moreover, having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court,” he added.

The facts, the judge ruled, were that Brown didn’t follow the rules — “a student’s reasonable expectations” — based on the code of student conduct that Doe understood, and that Doe is entitled to a new hearing.

Some of the related rules in the student code indicate a respondent must be considered innocent until proven guilty, and to be given “every opportunity” to raise concerns and relevant opinions, according to the ruling.

The court was not supposed to consider whether misconduct had happened — though the ruling went on at length to outline the testimony of both the male and female students about the incident and subsequent reactions and activities of each.