Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,
Over the last two days many of you have shared concerns regarding the article that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday. As the father of two daughters, I was especially disheartened that our campus was the place of such sorrow and tragedy for one of our students.
I hope you will take a few minutes to read the letter to the editor in the New York Times from Maureen Collins Zupan, chair of the Board of Trustees (also copied at the end of this letter). As Maureen notes, we continuously work to ensure that our sexual misconduct policy and process meet the standards that you and others in the Hobart and William Smith community expect. It is part of our ongoing commitment to create a safe and supportive environment at the Colleges for all of our students.
Here are a few of the things that are underway:
On Tuesday I had an opportunity to meet with students who created a petition on Change.org. They shared their concerns, and we discussed their thoughtful ideas about what we can do to engage students not just for a few hours at a required seminar but in a way that is ongoing and meaningful. Alumni and alumnae have organized conference calls seeking ways to enhance and support our efforts. Many have volunteered to offer their professional expertise as we chart new directions.
These conversations and actions are inspiring to me because in seeking to create change, they affirm belief in this community and its future.
We have a moment of opportunity before us to make a difference in our community and I look forward to updating you on our efforts.
Mark D. Gearan
Letter to the Editor of the New York Times from Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, Chair of the HWS Board of Trustees:
To the Editor:
The Hobart and William Smith Colleges community is heartbroken by our student’s experience, and we deeply regret the pain she has suffered. Her experience does not reflect the environment, values and traditions we have built and maintained for nearly two centuries at Hobart and William Smith. As an alumna, a proud mother of a daughter who graduated from HWS, and chairwoman of the board of trustees, I write with a heavy heart.
Like all colleges and universities, HWS is challenged to ensure that we are meeting the demands of a shifting legal landscape — especially in the area of sexual assault — as we also work to meet the needs of students while fostering a safer and more collegial learning environment.
We welcome the conversation about whether higher education should even have a role in adjudicating cases like this one. However, until federal law changes, we are required to carry out internal investigations and adjudicate cases based on the preponderance of evidence standard, as we did in this case.
During the past year, Hobart and William Smith Colleges have worked with national leaders in the field and have completed a review of our sexual misconduct policy. One of the country’s leading experts on the issue, Brett A. Sokolow, affirmed the conclusions of this case and observed that our process meets or exceeds best practices for higher education.
Could we have handled some things differently in this case? Of course. However, it remains my opinion as a feminist, mother, daughter, sister and leader that Hobart and William Smith handled this case properly, with compassion, respect and seriousness.
Within three minutes of receiving a call, our Campus Safety officers were on the scene for support and to advise the student of her rights and options for counseling and health care. Within one hour, the Geneva Police Department was notified. As was reported in The Times, the District Attorney’s Office concluded it would not press charges. On the basis of the information we have, much of which was not reported in The Times, and despite the intense reaction to the article, we stand by the results of our process.
Nothing I am writing diminishes the student’s suffering. Going forward, there is much more that HWS and every college and university can learn and do. We owe it to every member of our community to ensure that no student ever feels the pain and grief that this young woman has endured. That is why Hobart and William Smith Colleges pledge to build a new model of governance for this issue. Our attention and focus have never been higher.
MAUREEN COLLINS ZUPAN
Chair, Board of Trustees
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, N.Y., July 15, 2014