Stanford provost to students: 'We have no desire to sweep anything under the rug' | News | Palo Alto Online |


Stanford provost to students: 'We have no desire to sweep anything under the rug'

University administrators field questions about climate survey, breakdown in student trust

Stanford University administrators engaged in rare public dialogue with students about sexual-assault issues on campus during a town hall meeting Friday morning.

The town hall meeting, which was organized by Stanford's student government, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), was at times tense, with students giving voice to a rising tide of distrust and discontent with how their university addresses sexual assault. There's a perception on campus, students told the administrators, that the university is sweeping the severity of the problem under the rug, particularly in the wake of a campus climate survey that they felt touted an impossibly low rate of sexual assault.

"We have no desire to sweep anything under the rug," Provost John Etchemendy told the crowd of about 100 students, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as some faculty members.

"Whether or not you have the desire, it's still happening," one student responded. "I think that's being lost in translation. Whether or not you think that it's happening, whether or not there's the desire to do it ... we're experiencing that, so you need to address it."

Etchemendy, along with Senior University Counsel Lauren Schoenthaler; Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Stephanie Kalfayan, who served on the provost's Task Force on Sexual Assault; Stanford Law School Dean Elizabeth Magill, also a task-force member; Carly Flanery, acting director of the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA); and other administrators spoke briefly and then answered questions from the large crowd. The town hall was moved to a large dining area in the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons after the originally planned location, a small conference room, became packed.

The event was advertised as an opportunity for students to give input on the university's new pilot process for adjudicating sexual-assault cases, but it quickly turned to other topics of concern, both procedural and personal: the recent climate survey, Stanford's narrow definition of sexual assault, accommodations for student-survivors of sexual assault and sanctions for perpetrators, and institutional transparency and trust.

Many criticized the methodology behind and communication of the climate survey, which was released last month with a press release that began by stating that 1.9 percent of all students at Stanford — both men and women, undergraduate and graduate — experience sexual assault. Combining populations that experience sexual violence at very different rates produced a misleadingly low number, students and faculty have said.

And by relying on a narrow definition of sexual assault, which excludes sexual touching due to force or incapacitation, a range of acts — from someone slapping a student on the butt as they walk by at a party to more extreme examples, like drugging a woman and then fondling her but not penetrating her — were lumped together into the less-severe category of sexual misconduct. The survey found that 14.2 percent of all students and 32.9 percent of undergraduate women experienced sexual misconduct.

On Friday, students called the survey and press release "offensive," "deceitful" and "damaging" to ongoing prevention and education efforts.

"The numbers that you highlighted ... don't actually represent students experiences on campus," one female graduate student said. "It's unclear how serious the issue is."

Etchemendy defended the survey's findings and the university's press release.

"Every survey that you find will give (an) overall rate followed by the subgroups," Etchemendy said. "It was not a matter of trumpeting anything."

Since the survey came out, student activists and faculty have raised concerns that the survey definitions contributed to the very low rate reported of sexual assault and much higher sexual misconduct number.

Schoenthaler said Friday that the university's definition of sexual assault is aligned with California law and also tied to a recommendation from the provost's Task Force on Sexual Assault that expulsion be the default sanction for a student found responsible of sexual assault. Stanford now defines sexual assault as, specifically, vaginal or anal intercourse, digital penetration, oral copulation or penetration with a foreign object "accomplished by use of (i) force, violence, duress or menace; or (ii) inducement of incapacitation or knowingly taking advantage of an incapacitated person," university policy reads. Until October 2014, Stanford used a broader definition: an "actual, attempted or threatened unwanted sexual act" accomplished through force, violence, duress, fear or fraud or when a person is incapacitated.

Sexual misconduct, on the other hand, includes acts such as unwanted touching or kissing of an intimate body part (whether directly or through clothing); and recording, photographing, transmitting, viewing or distributing intimate or sexual images without the knowledge and consent of all parties involved, according to university policy.

One male student asked Friday why acts that would considered criminal under California law, Stanford includes in the sexual misconduct category.

"You are right," Schoenthaler told the student. "There is a criminal conduct that falls within the sexual misconduct definition," including sexual battery, she said.

She said that while expulsion is the expected sanction for sexual assault, that doesn't mean it's not on the table for students found responsible for more serious acts of misconduct. Stanford has only expelled one student in its history, in a case that involved multiple victims.

"I understand students have been saying you can find really horrible, awful conduct ... 'If five people come in and attack a woman and hold her down and masturbate on her, that wouldn't be sexual assault at Stanford.' ... I would certainly hope that would be an offense for which students would be expelled for doing that. I think that that would be the right outcome," she added.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Stephanie Kalfayan said the administration is in the midst of analyzing more survey data and plans to release the analysis publicly.

Several students stressed the importance of providing sufficient accommodations to students who have experienced sexual assault, many of whom suffer academically as well as psychologically and frequently take time off from school. Students have in the past spoken publicly about the toll that the university process itself takes, stretching on longer than the 60 days required under federal law, requiring expert (and expensive) legal advice and becoming what some students have described as a fight against the university.

The new judicial process was designed to be more streamlined, offers students up to six hours of free legal support and ensures students who file complaints are afforded accommodations including housing (i.e. if their alleged perpetrator lived in their dorm, the university would move that person elsewhere), counseling services, academic accommodations, no-contact directives for their alleged perpetrator, campus bans and escorts, among others.

One female student said Friday that six hours of legal advice is an insufficient amount of time, particularly for a student facing another party with more resources. Etchemendy responded that the university will provide a list of lawyers who will be trained in Stanford procedures and policies so they "will be able to get up to speed much more quickly than the average attorney."

The proposed adjudication process that Stanford plans to pilot in early 2016 was a top recommendation from the task force on sexual assault, which issued a final report with a series of proposals in April. One female student said a lack of communication around what's happened to the rest of those proposals and whether or not they will be implemented has contributed to students' "perceived distrust and perceived lack of action."

She asked for timelines around the implementation of proposals and more updates on the work of a committee charged with overseeing the roll-out of the task force's recommendations.

"Facts like that can help build trust," she said.

Etchemendy told her that he could "not agree more."

"We agree that first of all, the level of sexual assault we have on campus, the level of sexual misconduct is unacceptable," he said. "Any rate is unacceptable. We know we need to better educate; we know we need to do better adjudicating ... we know we need to do that and that's why we're making all these changes," he said. "I wholeheartedly agree with what you said."

Several students called on the administration to issue a new press release to address their concerns. Though Etchemendy didn't respond to those calls during the town hall, students who stayed after the event to speak with him ended said he told them he would issue a statement.

Sophomore Stephanie Pham, co-founder of a new student group working to raise awareness about sexual assault at Stanford, said in an interview after the event that the town hall itself — planned for a room too small, with a late start, malfunctioning microphones that made it difficult to hear and lack of advance notice to students — was emblematic of a broader deficiencies in the university's attitude toward sexual assault. She said she hopes there will be another town hall meeting.

Editor's note: This story incorrectly stated more than 50 students and faculty attended the town hall. About 100 people attended.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to

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3 people like this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 14, 2015 at 11:57 am

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2015 at 12:19 pm

> One male student asked Friday why acts that would considered criminal under
> California law, Stanford includes in the sexual misconduct category.

This begs the question why there are so few reports of sexual assault to the local police by Stanford students? If Stanford students can not be trusted to be a part of the larger law enforcement system--then Stanford is not educating young people to understand, or participate, in our system of laws when they leave the campus and join society as a whole.

8 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2015 at 1:40 pm

>the crowd of more than 50 students, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as some faculty members.

Did that 'crowd of 50' happen to bring up the hysterical case of Jackie Coakley, at the University of Virginia, where all those guys were smeared? Did Coakley ever get expelled?

The law matters, because false accusations are made. A court of law is the proper place to adjudicate such charges and countercharges. Stanford is not capable of being the proper adjudicating judge, despite what 50 angry students 'feel'.

31 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 14, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I hope that everyone realizes the implications of creating santuary zones in high schools and universities where Federal, State and local laws are preempted by the school or university.

We have laws and a judicial system for the precise reason that a civil society requires a set of laws and an impartial manner to adujicate alleged violations of those laws. If a school or university wants to do MORE than comply with the civil and criminal laws that is their choice but they have no right to premept the laws of the society of which they are a part.

And it is a huge mistake to encourage students to believe that a school or university is the proper arbiter for alleged violations of the law.

5 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2015 at 2:32 pm

@Peter: Bingo!

11 people like this
Posted by Real American
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 14, 2015 at 3:56 pm

These complainers should be thrilled that there are far fewer sexual assaults than they perceived. Instead they're upset, which indicates that preventing sexual assaults is not their goal and they actually have some other more sinister political agenda (more power!)

14 people like this
Posted by Etchemendy and the "woman question"
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Etchemendy said: "Every survey that you find will give (an) overall rate followed by the subgroups," Etchemendy said. "It was not a matter of trumpeting anything."

Readers should compare Stanford's repeated trumpeting of it's impossibly low 1.9% rate with Harvard's press release and reporting on the issue. In the Harvard Gazette (the equivalent of the Stanford report) for example, didn't even report aggregate information for students since attending Harvard. It reported only subgroups of interest, including undergraduate female seniors, and LGBQ senior women.

This is the correct way to report this kind of data. Harvard did not even offer an averaged number like Stanford.

Then University President Drew Faust (a woman) held a 90 minute town hall in the Science Auditorium before thousands of students and openly and honestly discussed the findings, called them "disturbing", and said that work needed to begin immediately.

And in answer to Etchemendy's statement that "everyone is doing it," please note that in Faust's letter to the Harvard Community, the FIRST statistics she highlighted was the rate for undergraduate senior women, for nonconsensual sexual contact and nonconsensual penetration. The overall number came later.

That's leadership.

MIT announced its climate findings without ever mentioning an aggregate statistic. MIT News (the press organ of MIT) reported only one statistic, the proportion of undergraduate women who were assaulted: 17%.

"The national conversation on campus sexual assaults has focused on the widely cited statistic that about 19 percent of undergraduate women experience rape or sexual assault under conditions of force, threat of physical harm, or incapacitation. By that definition, for those undergraduate women who responded to MIT’s survey, the Institute’s comparable figure is nearly 17 percent." Web Link

So in sum, Etchemendy has literally no idea what he is talking about. That figures, since at the "Town Hall" on Friday he said that he "didn't write the press release." Ahem.

Dartmouth didn't issue a press release, just a letter from the President and Provost that contained zero statistics, proving that if you don't have anything nice to say, then not saying anything is still an option. Web Link

Not issuing a press release trumpeting in the first line (and a letter also trumpeting in the first line) that there is only a 1.9% rate of assault, humblebragging that "anything [even this tiny amount] is too much", and then repeatedly digging in defensively with a string of misinformation announcements about how the number is low because you can't compare to other surveys (yes you can) or our definition is only narrow because we are following the law (not true) or that the students and faculty who have been calling attention to this misinformation are really the ones highlighting the number.

The last assertion, the last refuge of a losing argument - to lash out at perceived enemies and blame them for your faults -- was repeated at Friday's "town hall." Etchemendy said "it's you students who are calling attention to the 1.9% number, not me."

Oh my.

What a miserable excuse for leadership on this issue Stanford is receiving. Who holds a town hall meeting at 8:30am on a Friday?

When the lack of transparency, defensiveness, and self-victimization of the Stanford administration is compared with the clarity and moral leadership at Harvard there is just no compare.

We obviously need a female President. Is the Board of Trustees watching this? Do they care about students being assaulted or do they just care about money and prestige?

Stanford right now has a woman problem from the top to the bottom. Women's leadership is low. A crisis over the treatment of women led to serious incidents that have been reported in the national media at the Business School and the Hoover Institution. Stanford is getting black eye after black eye on its treatment of women -- the unaddressed rape epidemic on campus is just one symptom of a larger misogynist culture.

Women faculty who speak out face retaliation.

Everyone knows that this is the case.

We are about to find out, as a new President is being selected now. How important will the issue of women at Stanford be?

4 people like this
Posted by Etchemendy and the "woman question"
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 14, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Link to Havard Gazette: Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2015 at 5:35 pm

The US Dept. of Education requires institutions of higher education to report crime statistics on their campuses under the Clery Act.

For the years 2010, 2011, and 2012, Stanford reported occurrences of forcible rape to be: 21, 12, 26, respectively.

15 people like this
Posted by Hahahahaha
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Yeah, right, Etch! I'll believe this when you're gone.

2 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2015 at 3:44 am

How many of the incidents happen on the same night as Full Moon on the Quad?

5 people like this
Posted by missing the forest and the trees
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 15, 2015 at 10:14 am

To person who posted "Etch and the 'woman question,'"

Why aren't female Stanford faculty members, whom you say are "facing retaliation" because of their position on sexual assault, using Stanford's sexual assault survey results to their advantage claiming the relatively good stats as THEIR success, stemming from THEIR sexual assault advocacy on campus?

Why instead the narrative that this one fact - 1.9% of all Stanford students have been sexually assaulted - shows that Stanford's male provost is a "misogynist," a "miserable excuse for leadership" and has "literally no idea what he is talking about."

Your arguments don't add up.

You herald Harvard in comparison, saying that Stanford is the one with an "unaddressed rape epidemic on campus."

Harvard is NOT a model college for women. It has 3 times the sexual assault problem Stanford does: 16% compared to Stanford's 4.7%.

Your condemnation of Stanford's provost seems to boil down to this - a beef you have about sentence structure, ignoring the reporting model used by the Association of American Universities which developed a sexual assault survey for colleges.

AAU's press release starts with the OVERALL aggregated stat followed by a stat for women. Web Link

Harvard's Sexual Assault Survey Report, the basis for the news story you herald, led with the OVERALL aggregated stat too.
Web Link)

Like AAU and Harvard, Stanford's President and Provost put the OVERALL stat first.

Unlike AAU and Harvard, Stanford's President and Provost immediately followed that with the disaggregated stat on women in the SAME sentence. ("About 2 percent of Stanford students surveyed, and just under 5 percent of undergraduate women surveyed, reported experiencing an incident of sexual assault as defined by Stanford policy during their time at Stanford.")

Stanford's news report “written by a woman“ followed the official report's format: aggregate and then sub-sets. Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by missing the forest and the trees
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 15, 2015 at 10:29 am

Also to the person who posted "Etch and the 'woman question,'"

These recent statements by Stanford's President and Provost are candid and show concern:

"Clearly, behavior is still occurring here that is deeply and fundamentally inconsistent with our community values."

"5 percent of undergraduate women surveyed reported experiencing an incident of sexual assault as defined by Stanford policy during their time at Stanford. To us, any number above zero is unacceptable."

"Nearly one-third of undergraduate women surveyed“ reported experiencing some other form of sexual misconduct, including nonconsensual touching, during their time at Stanford. This is a striking and troubling finding."

"we have much more work to do in battling sexual assault and misconduct"

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Etchemendy and the "woman question"
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 15, 2015 at 10:42 am

The discussion is about the press release issued by Stanford not about the survey's reporting internal to the write up of the survey itself. The critique is of the way Stanford reported those results to the world as compared to Harvard, and the way Harvard's female president handled them versus John Hennessey and John Etchemendy.

Please read more carefully.

3 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2015 at 11:48 am

Who believes anything anymore?

Inside Stanford Business School’s Spiraling Sex Scandal
Web Link

"Vanity Fair's December issue includes a detailed article on the Stanford sex scandal that has forced the resignation of the dean of one of the nation's highest-ranked business schools."
Web Link

A Stanford Dean was sleeping with a Professor's wife as he fired her husband from his position. And Etchemendy ignored it. Does anyone take whatever these people say seriously anymore?

2 people like this
Posted by missing the forest and the trees
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 15, 2015 at 11:54 am

To the person who posted "Etch and the 'woman question,'"

You are calling the male leadership at Stanford quite harsh things -- "misogynists," "Miserable excuses for leadership" and clueless -- just because a press release, written by a WOMAN, followed the Association of American Universities' press release format instead of Harvard's.

You believe this despite these two men writing their own letter, which pops right up in an internet search, that separates the two survey findings by ONE word ("and").

FYI - Princeton's press release leads with overall and then reports subgroups.
Yale's press release doesn't mention women. Many college which participated in the survey didn't issue press releases.

I still don't see how Stanford has what you call an "unaddressed rape epidemic on campus" when compared to Harvard, since the surveys establish that Harvard has 3 times the number of sexual assaults against women?

5 people like this
Posted by Etchemendy and the "woman question"
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 15, 2015 at 12:05 pm

[Portion removed.]

There is no AAU "press release" format. Each school made its own decision. As I described above, Harvard highlighted only the correct information. MIT highlighted only the correct information. Dartmouth wisely highlighted nothing and did no press release at all. Usually corporations do not do press releases unless they think it makes them look good. I don't remember a BP press release: "BP Deepwater Horizon explodes and kills many workers, dumps billions of gallons of oil into the sea in unstoppable torrent, all due to incompetence and greed." Don't remember Phillip Morris's press release: "All users of our product are killed! It's monstrously fatal! Stop using it!"

When a corporation like Stanford does a press release on negative facts, it tries to spin them. That is what they did here. They cherrypicked a ridiculously non-credible number like 1.9% even though they knew that there was good reason to be skeptical of the number (see the appendices) and then hoped that the press would print their low low number. [Portion removed.]

Every school including Stanford had a choice to make about how to treat these figures. Stanford made a bad call and it should reverse course. Now.

As to why I am saying Stanford is a misogynist culture (I never said that Etchemendy or Hennessey were themselves misogynist) can be summed up in this quote from University counsel (and noted woman) Debra Zumwalt, who said in the New York Times regarding a report that concluded that the Hoover Institution women staff and faculty felt that it was a hostile work environment:

"Ms. Zumwalt cautioned against reading too much into the Hoover report's conclusions. Just because the majority of women interviewed felt that it was not always a respectful workplace, she said, "that does not mean that it was not a respectful workplace."

That would be funny if it was not so sickening and the fact that those words were placed into the mouth of a female employee just makes them sadder still.

Stanford has a woman problem. This isn't a new story it's an old story: Less than 20 years ago we had the sitaution at the medical school with Fran Conley and rampant sexual harassment that she exposed.

[Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by missing the forest and the trees
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 15, 2015 at 2:09 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Etchemendy and the "woman question"
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 15, 2015 at 2:33 pm

[Post removed.]

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