UI: Ex-student accused of sexual assault should not get degree

UI: Ex-student accused of sexual assault should not get degree

URBANA — In a response filed this week, the University of Illinois argued a former MBA student should not be granted his degree after it was withheld following an accusation of sexual assault.

Facing termination by his employer in Massachusetts on April 15 and the possible loss of his H-1B visa, the former student identified as John Doe sought emergency relief in the form of his degree being granted.

Doe "seeks emergency injunctive relief to preserve his employment and lawful status in the United States so that the matter ... can be decided on the merits and so that he can avoid the irreparable harm associated with the loss of his degree, employment and immigration status," his lawyer, Eric F. Long, wrote last week.

The UI's attorney, Peter G. Land, called that an "extraordinary remedy" that would threaten the autonomy of universities.

And they argued the emergency was created in part by Doe.

Doe's "claim that he will suffer irreparable harm if his current employer terminates him and does not sponsor him for an H-1B visa is undermined by plaintiff's own delay in seeking injunctive relief until a few weeks before the H-1B filing deadline when his options for seeking another employer sponsor are harder to find," Land wrote.

Doe participated in the graduation ceremony May 12, 2018, but before he received his degree, Doe was accused June 4 of sexual assault the previous fall.

Doe met June 19 with UI investigators, who put together a 284-page investigative report with summaries of interviews from witnesses and the woman who accused him, as well as communications between Doe and his accuser, according to Land.

A panel then determined Sept. 27 that Doe went to a fellow MBA student's apartment, drank with her and had sex with her three times while she was unable to consent.

Doe appealed this, and a committee found that the panel didn't explain its rationale for the first two sexual encounters, according to Land.

Another panel determined that the woman was incapacitated during the third encounter, but didn't have enough evidence for the first two, Land wrote.

"Given that [Roe] vomited and had to be helped to the bathroom, the subcommittee believes that [Roe] was incapacitated during the third sexual encounter and that [plaintiff] should have reasonably known," the second panel determined. "[Plaintiff] states that the third sexual act happened two hours later and that [Roe] was awake. The subcommittee finds that given the amount of alcohol that [Roe] consumed, this was insufficient time for her to regain capacity."

Doe appealed this, but Land said that around Dec. 10, he lost his second appeal, and the panel's sanction of dismissal was upheld. Doe can petition for conferral of his degree in 2020.

Doe is now suing the UI in federal court, alleging his due process rights were violated during the investigation.

In his lawsuit, he said that the sex was consensual and that little alcohol was consumed.

Doe also argued that because the investigation happened after graduation, he had already "earned" his MBA degree by completing his coursework, paying tuition and obeying UI policies.

But the UI argued this is not true, as not all of Doe's grades were in at the time the assault accusation was made.

"In fact, Doe's transcript as of June 4 reflected a grade of 'NR,' or 'Not Reported' for one of plaintiff's courses from the spring 2018 semester," Land wrote.

He said that besides the academic requirements, the UI checks to make sure all disciplinary charges are resolved before conferring the degree.

"Plaintiff had no contractual entitlement to his degree just because he finished his coursework," Land wrote.

And he said this is all laid out in the student code and student disciplinary procedures.

To reverse the panel's finding after an investigation and two appeals, Land argued, would violate the independence of the UI.

"Setting the conditions and policies upon which degrees will be conferred is a quintessential academic decision," Land wrote. "Plaintiff's request for a mandatory injunction asks this court to essentially alter the university's degree conferral policy."

The matter is now before U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce, who ruled last July against another student accused of sexual assault who was dismissed for two years.

At the same time, Bruce was critical of the UI's process for handling sexual assault claims.

"Expulsion procedures must provide a student with a meaningful opportunity to be heard," he wrote at the time.

Since then, the UI has updated its process, allowing the accuser and the accused to "present testimony directly to the adjudicating panel," Land wrote.

The new policy states that each party will be allowed to present "one at a time" for 10 minutes, followed by questions from the panel.

This policy was not yet in place during the investigation of Doe.