Correction: The Dean of Faculty determined the punishment for Professor Verdú, not a panel, as was previously written in the column. The 'Prince' regrets this error.
The University community was appalled when it heard that the Dean of Faculty found electrical engineering Professor Sergio Verdú “responsible for sexual harassment” of graduate student Yeohee Im. The community was even more appalled that he allegedly received only an eight-hour training course for punishment, according to Im. University spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told the 'Prince' that "penalties were imposed in addition to the required counseling" and Vice President for Communications Daniel Day said that he could not disclose the other penalties.
Now, staff and students want to raise his punishment.
Two weeks ago, fellow columnist Ryan Born argued that the University should terminate Verdú. Last week, the Undergraduate Student Government debated a resolution asking the University to increase his penalty. A day later, the 'Prince' published a petition signed by over 700 students, alumni, faculty, and staff asking for an elevation of “disciplinary actions against Professor Verdú.” On Nov. 20, electrical engineering students gathered to criticize Verdú’s supposedly light punishment.
These demands undermine due process and have serious repercussions on disciplinary proceedings for the University community at large. Due process is the guarantee that individuals are treated impartially through a judicial system; it ensures that they are fairly punished for their actions. By pressuring the administration to retroactively change his punishment, these groups are circumventing the school’s established misconduct procedures.
Verdú was investigated and punished for what was — at that time — considered appropriate for his sexual misconduct. The administration should maintain Verdú's current punishment. The punishment can be changed for future cases, but not for past decisions.
First, it's wrong to condemn the school's conduct without knowing the full extent of Verdú's punishment. He could have received other punishments that aren't outwardly apparent. According to Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, faculty penalties for sexual misconduct could include demotion, financial penalty, unpaid leave of absence, or other unnamed measures permitted by “the employment policies governing the employee in question.” We wouldn't know if any of these occurred — especially if an unpaid leave was short — unless the University or Verdú himself disclosed them, which they have not.
Even if Im's claim is true, staff and students shouldn't force administrators to change a punishment. Doing this delegitimizes the school's disciplinary panels. When a member of the University community breaks a rule, a Title IX panel, the Undergraduate Honor Committee, or Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline will investigate the alleged misconduct, determine guilt, and assign a punishment. These panels are vested with the power to assign punishments because they are unbiased and analyze evidence that indicates the severity of an individual's misconduct.
Retroactively changing a punishment will compromise these panels' authority and sets an alarming precedent.
To illustrate this with a less extreme transgression, imagine a student getting caught for cheating on an Introduction to Computer Science exam – one of the most common Honor Code violations. The Honor Committee gives the student a one-year suspension. Upon return, the student learns that the computer science professors want to crack down on cheating, and they successfully petition University administrators to expel him.
Such an ex post facto rule would clearly be unfair. At the time that the student cheated, the University community — which collectively sets punishment standards — thought that a suspension was an appropriate punishment for his infraction. Altering the punishment in this example weakens the Honor Committee's power. It would set a dangerous precedent where anyone's disciplinary punishment could be overridden by a petition from people who haven’t seen all of the case’s evidence and may harbor arbitrary biases against a particular person
The same is true of Verdú's case. We shouldn't retroactively alter punishments based on ever-changing popular will and political winds. Before Verdú’s story broke, the University community, as a whole, wasn’t publicly pushing for a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy like it’s presently doing. Unless his punishment contradicts current rules, administrators should preserve disciplinary panels' integrity by not changing it.
There is one exception to this. According to a recording obtained by the 'Prince,' Dean of Faculty Deborah Prentice said that, “there was a broader set of allegations” against Verdú, though no one else has spoken on the record about them. If additional students file Title IX complaints and he is found responsible, Princeton can treat him as a repeat offender and terminate him accordingly.
That being said, the University's Title IX policy should be more transparent. They ought to disclose when professors are found responsible of misconduct and specify their punishments. Should students learn of Verdú's full punishment and are still outraged, then, and only then, can they advocate to change penalty requirements. Transparency would help the University community evaluate the effectiveness of disciplinary procedures and determine whether they need to be updated.
While Professor Verdú's alleged misconduct is despicable, we can't make brash demands. It’s perfectly fine if the University community wants to terminate professors found responsible for sexual misconduct in the future. But doing this post factum to Verdú’s verdict has grave consequences. Princeton’s disciplinary procedures ensure that staff and students receive punishments from unbiased panels. By demanding to change Verdu's punishment, we kill due process.
Liam O’Connor is a sophomore from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at email@example.com.