COS suspends Cook, Robb-Hearing unlike court scene

by Scott Anthony | 5/16/94 5:00am

In Thursday's open Committee on Standards hearing, two students were tried, found guilty and sentenced, but that is where the similarities to a courtroom trial end.

In fact, the College's internal disciplinary system is very different from a judicial court. There is no need to prove "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt"; a preponderance of evidence is enough for a guilty verdict.

The differences between the COS and a court of justice jump out as soon as you enter the trial room, located on the third floor of Parkhurst Hall. There is no bench or jury box, but a large, wooden square table.

Nat Cook '94 and David Robb '94, the "defendants," were not flanked by an attorney but by Assistant Dean of Students Kate Burke, who acted as their adviser.

They sat at the same table as the members of the COS, across from Dean of the College Lee Pelton, who chairs the COS, and Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Officer Marcia Kelly.

Cook and Robb were not tried by a "jury of their peers." The members of the COS included two students, two professors, two administrators and Pelton.

There was no prosecuting or defense attorney, and there were no objections to any of the questions posed.

At the beginning of the hearing, Pelton told Cook and Robb that he wanted to conduct the trial in a way where "as much of the hearing is in your control as possible."

Cook and Robb got a chance to make brief opening and closing statements, but spent the rest of the hearing answering questions from COS members.

Pelton acted more like a moderator than a judge, leading the discussion and asking some questions, but no more than any other COS member.

Instead of sitting stoically while hearing testimony from witnesses, Cook and Robb answered questions from COS members and could ask questions of the other witnesses.

There was no "witness stand," and no one in the room took an oath. Instead, Pelton said at the beginning of the proceedings that everyone was "expected" to tell the truth.

Witnesses sat off to the side of the main table, and could be called on to answer a question at any time.

Every COS member had a large packet of papers in front of them with witnesses' testimonies and other documents. At the hearing witnesses did not give testimony, they answered questions COS members had.

The entire hearing was very informal, as COS members jumped in with questions whenever they had them. There also was a bin of various soft drinks and a tray of cookies.

Pelton addressed Cook and Robb by their first names and everyone spoke in common terms -- avoiding words like defendant and plaintiff.

After about three hours, when everyone was out of questions, Pelton thanked Cook and Robb, and set up a time for them to pick up the results of the hearing from the Dean of the College office.

He then excused Cook, Robb and the observers, and closed the proceedings for deliberations.

In all its hearings, the COS votes, and if it finds students guilty, recommends a penalty to Pelton, who then determines the penalty. But if Pelton decides on a punishment that the COS does not agree with, a separate arbitrator decides between the two.

Every COS member had a sign in front of them with their name. There students were Alison Burrell '95 and Steve Fagell '95, the faculty members were Education Professor Andrew Garrod and Physics Professor John Thorstensen, and the administrators were Rob Ceplikas, the athletic director's special assistant, and Associate Admissions Director Betsey Winslow.

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