Miller: An open letter regarding disciplinary procedures

I thought it might be useful if I tried to address some misconceptions about how the Yale College Dean’s Office carries out some of its work, particularly with regard to disciplinary procedures. Perhaps because of concern about the gravity of the matter — which I share — questions have come up time and again about the so-called “Preseason Scouting Report” (PSSR), and they usually stem from a desire to know whether someone has, in fact, been disciplined — whether the disciplinary process has been engaged or completed and a person or persons held responsible and punished. What will be known, ultimately, about this case?

Let me start by reviewing what the process is or can be in a case of this kind, which might fall into one or another of several categories of offense specified in the Undergraduate Regulations. Those Regulations read as follows: “An undergraduate student may bring a complaint of a nonacademic infraction to the attention of the chair [of the Executive Committee] only in conjunction with his or her residential college master, residential college dean, a member of the Yale College Dean’s Office, a member of the Yale College Sexual Harassment Grievance Board, a human relations counselor, a member of the President’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Harassment, or the University Police.” The Undergraduate Regulations state that the complaint must be made in writing and must describe in specific detail the nature of the infraction and the information upon which the complaint is based. A complaint against a specific individual might therefore come into the YCDO; in general, a student with a complaint would be directed to the Dean of Student Affairs, Marichal Gentry. However, in certain cases, specific information sufficient to make a charge against a student may not be readily available or obtainable. In those cases, Dean Gentry would ordinarily consult with the student bringing the complaint and other administrators at the college to determine whether information may be found that would allow a complaint to move forward. If there is sufficient information to charge someone — for example, in the case of the PSSR, with harassment or abetting harassment — then the Secretary of the Executive Committee would write a charging letter and the Factfinder of the Executive Committee would be asked to explore the facts of the case in greater detail and summarize those facts for the Executive Committee. Or, if there is not sufficient information but there is reason to think it might be found, the Secretary would notify a student that an investigation into the facts would be conducted by the Factfinder. Usually, however, the Factfinder does not explore the facts of the case until the Committee has received a complaint naming an individual or group. Information may arrive at the YCDO quite slowly, and sometimes not by conventional routes. A student might come forward with a complaint, or with details about a complaint that allows the Executive Committee to proceed with a disciplinary matter, after what might seem to be a fairly long lag time. An additional difficulty, then, may arise in eliciting the facts of the matter, if time has elapsed.

To summarize: a charging letter based on a complaint leads to an investigation, and from there to a hearing, usually with the Coordinating Committee of the Executive Committee. But let me be clear: the Factfinder does not explore the facts of the case until the committee has received a complaint naming an individual or group.

All these processes are confidential — from their inception through their conclusion as required under federal law and University policy. The Yale College Dean may not step forward and say “charges have been received” nor “case closed” after a hearing and disposition; the Dean may not, in fact, comment in any specific way on a potential investigation, charges, or outcome, at any stage — nor can any member of the Executive Committee (which is composed of faculty, deans and students), the persons bringing charges or being charged, or anyone else connected with the matter.

So it is not the case that the YCDO can reveal to the larger student body what we have done, what we are doing, and what we might do in the future about a case such as that of the PSSR or any other. If charged in this or any other case, students are also required to keep the details of the disciplinary process confidential. This process is not designed to provide satisfaction to those who might feel aggrieved as members of the larger community in which the offense has occurred; rather, the process is designed to safeguard the rights of the charged student alongside those of the student bringing the complaint: all are Yale College students. And the point of this process is to get to the root of a problem and resolve it fairly.

Let me return to the question I raised above: what will be known, ultimately, about this case? As I have explained, for very good reasons the outcome of any formal disciplinary action will remain confidential. But meanwhile, we can know some outcomes, and that our community has moved ahead: the Women’s Center responded with a robust and well-attended panel on September 6, pushing the matter to the forefront of campus conversation. A few days later, Director of Athletics Tom Beckett discussed with coaches and captains the ways that harassment can damage relationships and harm trust. Recently, the Faculty Committee on Athletics, chaired by Master Judith Krauss, once again held a useful conversation with student athletes — not because there was ever any indication that the PSSR had originated among athletes but because it both circulated among some athletes and targeted some freshman athletes as well.

For all we know, documents like the PSSR have been in circulation for years. What is different this year is that the discussion and comment about it have come out of the shadows and into the open. It is clear to me that students — men and women alike — do not intend to tolerate the circulation of such material in our community in the future. This exposure to public scrutiny could be the first step toward change that is community-wide and sustainable. I certainly hope so.

Mary Miller is the dean of Yale College.