The Collegian
Wednesday, May 27, 2020

An inside look into the University Hearing Board

A Westhampton College student reports to the Title IX office that she was raped.

What follows is a Title IX investigation, where someone reports it to the coordinator, according to the sexual-misconduct reporting process. After the investigation is over, the investigators make a determination whether there is sufficient evidence to refer the matter to the appropriate Conduct Officer.

Depending on the accused student’s college, the case would then reach either Patrick Benner or Charm Bullard, associate dean of Richmond College and Westhampton College, respectively, who serve as the conduct officers and who have the ability to assign a charge.

If the respondent/accused student were from Richmond College, Benner would then meet with this student, and, since this is a sexual-misconduct case, the respondent and complainant, said Joe Boehman, dean of Richmond College. Both parties are allowed to bring an adviser, such as an attorney, who could ask questions and act as a support system, he said.

In that initial hearing, Benner would state, “Here is the charge. Do you accept or deny responsibility?” If the student denies responsibility, it automatically goes to the University Hearing Board, which was used four times last year -- three of which were cases relating to violations of the sexual-misconduct policy.

When a student at the University of Richmond faces a violation of the standards of student conduct, the University Hearing Board holds a hearing to determine whether the student is responsible and what sanctions are required.

The University Hearing Board is for students who are suspected of the most serious offenses, such as sexual misconduct, fights, assault or drug-related incidents, Boehman said. It handles things that could be put through the court under criminal justice, he said.

Either Boehman or Kerry Fankhauser, who is the interim dean of Westhampton College, could serve as the chairman or chairwoman of the hearing board depending upon the respondent’s college. As non-voting members, their job is to both appeal rights for all parties and coordinate the hearing in order for it to run smoothly, Boehman said.

The board includes three administrators who are selected from a pool of 10 to 15 trained members charged with determining if a student is responsible for violating university policy, and if so assign appropriate sanctions, according to information provided by the board.

Steve Bisese, the vice president for student development, appoints members for one-year terms annually and annually updates members on Title IX changes.

“We purposely look for staff members that may not have a lot of interactions or face-to-face time with students because we want to maintain the anonymity of all members as much as we can,” Boehman said.

A sexual-misconduct case will hear the complainant, who is the person that brings forth the case, and the respondent, who is the person being charged.

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Both parties are afforded equal rights of access to the hearing, along with the ability to call witnesses to make opening and closing statements, Boehman said.

At times, campus police may speak at a hearing to provide information or evidence, campus police chief David McCoy said.

The board and the police work together for the initial phases, McCoy said, but a lot of what is dictated in those terms is based upon the victim and how they wish to proceed.

For example, if a student were willing to make a report and start criminal prosecution, the police would share information with the Title IX director, McCoy said. The investigators would then initiate what they need to do on their terms, but police would still stay focused on its criminal investigation, he said.

“Our role is building a criminal case,” McCoy said, “and once reported, we work with the commonwealth attorney to build the best case as possible for prosecution.”

For a hearing that doesn’t involve sexual-misconduct policies, only the respondent is invited. In other words, the complainant has basically brought a charge forward and, if anything, he or she is treated as a witness, Boehman said.

Boehman is gearing up for his third hearing on the violations of the university sexual-misconduct policy this year, but not every case that goes through the conduct process will make it to up the hearing board, he said.

“I meet with both parties and their advisers to explain the process so that they are aware of all their rights,” Boehman said. “It’s an intimidating process and I don’t want anyone to be blind-sided.”

The complainant has the right to decline participation in the hearing, the right to participate only as a witness, the right to be present during the whole hearing except for deliberation or the right to participate via video conferencing, Boehman said.

“We are trying to recognize that for the complainants this can be a traumatic situation,” Boehman said, “so we want to make sure that we give them as much options and control to do what they want to do.”

During the hearing, members of the board will ask questions of the complainant, respondent and witnesses, and then the complainant and respondent have the opportunity to ask questions of any witnesses, he said.

If the case involves a respondent from Richmond College and the hearing is over, the proceedings are stopped and all parties leave except Boehman and members of the board, Then, they all discuss whether the person is responsible or not, said Boehman. Boehman serves as a resource person to help clarify policy or procedural questions.

If the student is found responsible, the board determines the appropriate sanction, which can range from conduct probation to permanent separation from the university.

The board announces what happened, and Boehman writes a summary letter to both parties, he said.

The process may continue if the respondent appeals the decision of the Student Conduct Board to the appropriate Appellate Administration, according to the Standards of Student Conduct. It could also proceed if the complainant appeals the decision of the University Hearing Board.

“So there is a judgment made in the University Hearing Board and a person has five days to appeal the findings,” Bisese said. “The grounds for an appeal include whether someone lied, whether new or relevant information has surfaced, whether the person or persons feel that the penalty was not appropriate or whether the university didn’t follow process or procedures correctly.”

Bisese, who receives the appeal and makes a decision, assembles board members who were not at the specific hearing to be the review panel and assist him in reviewing the case. He then decides whether to grant or deny the appeal, and if he grants the appeal, he could either send it for another hearing or for a portion of the hearing to be retried, he said.This academic year there has been one hearing that has resulted in an appeal, Bisese said.

“It is a process that we work hard to make sure that both parties are treated fairly,” Boehman said. “We answer their questions and recognize that this is a difficult process for all parties.

“My hope is that if students are reading this and wondering to report or not, I feel as if there is a great deal on care and concern for folks that come forward, and we want to make campus a safer environment,” Boehman said.

Update 11/01/15: The original version of this story contained several areas where information was either inaccurate or unclear. With the help of Maura Smith, Title IX coordinator and director of compliance, this updated version improved and fixed the previous misleading phrases.

Contact reporter Catherine McTiernan at

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