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Rape Allegations Spark Controversy at Pomona College : Discipline: Man faces school board after student claims he assaulted her 2 1/2 years ago on a date. Case raises questions about right to conduct such hearings.

May 05, 1994|DEBORAH SULLIVAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As Pomona College students file forward to receive their degrees at the school's commencement ceremony May 15, one graduating senior will be wondering whether the diploma is his to keep.

In March, a female student filed charges with the college disciplinary board, accusing the senior of date rape in an incident 2 1/2 years ago. Although she concedes that she never objected to having sex with him, she says she did not consent to it and was left traumatized.

No police report was ever filed in the Pomona College case; no criminal charges were ever brought against the man. For that reason, The Times is withholding his name. The woman is not identified because Times' policy is not to name victims of rape or alleged victims of rape. Both students refused to comment on the case.

Under school rules, the accusations pending before the college disciplinary board--made up of 10 students--could lead to expulsion. The accused student sued in court and won a stay of the board's hearing that allowed him to graduate but left open the possibility that his degree could be revoked if the disciplinary panel later finds him guilty.

The case has put college judicial procedures on trial, raising questions about the line between private discipline and public justice: How much authority do private colleges have to issue judgments on what might otherwise be criminal charges? To what extent can or should they regulate students' behavior? And can they deny a defendant at a disciplinary hearing an attorney and other rights guaranteed in the Constitution?

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Questions such as those have been under debate at colleges around the country. A Yale University basketball player who was expelled last year for an alleged rape sued the school over its disciplinary procedures. And a student accused of rape at Valparaiso University in Indiana demanded $12 million in compensatory and punitive damages, claiming the school violated his rights by excluding several defense witnesses from his hearing on the charge. The cases are pending.

Even advocates of women's rights are split on the Pomona College case. A USC law professor who is an expert on gender law says she finds so many faults with the accusations that she fears the case will cause some people to discount the whole idea of date rape. But some students at the prestigious Claremont Colleges, which includes Pomona College, have held an ongoing vigil to protest the delay in the hearing on the charges, saying that the case typifies subtler forms of sexual assault.

Because date rape is notoriously difficult to prosecute, schools have created rules that are broader and easier to enforce than criminal codes.

"Our standard of proof is clear and consistent evidence," said Ann Quinley, the Pomona College dean of students. "It is possible for someone to be found guilty in a college hearing when they would not be in a court of law."

Howard Rosen, the accused student's attorney, said the college should not be deciding the case at all.

"They're not set up to deal with this charge, which is a very serious felony," Rosen said. "It's not the proper forum for that. . . . Do you really think if someone had been killed on this campus, this jury of juniors and seniors would convene to determine if it was premeditated or they acted in self-defense?"

The woman met the man at a Halloween party in 1991, when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore, she said in a written statement to the college's disciplinary panel. They were both drinking heavily, and at his suggestion they left the party for his room, where they began kissing and he undressed her.

She said she did not explicitly consent to have intercourse with him, but never objected.

Instead, she said, "I lay there in shock and scared and mentally frozen." The incident has troubled her ever since and always will, she said.

The next week, she expressed her shock and anger to him, and said he seemed sorry and sympathetic. Their occasional interactions afterward "could not have been more civil," she wrote.

More than two years later, though, she decided to bring disciplinary charges against him, although she did not explain the reason for the delay. The accused man was summoned to appear before the disciplinary panel on April 22, but filed a lawsuit against the school protesting the hearing.

On April 20 a Superior Court judge stayed the hearing until May 24--allowing him to graduate. Last Friday the college filed an appeal, which was denied Monday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Diane Wayne said she would decide then whether the hearing will proceed. She added, though, that school rules prohibiting the student from bringing an attorney to the college hearing aren't appropriate in this case.

"It is such a serious charge, and the circumstances are seriously open to two divergent interpretations," Wayne said. "He is entitled to an attorney."

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