An attorney for the University of California-San Diego admitted in court that the school hid the identity of a witness who could have disproved (or proved, even) the accusation against a student.
Jonathan Dorfman was accused in 2011 of cheating on a test.
The "evidence" against him consisted of a changed letter at the top of the test — indicating Dorfman had changed what exam version he was taking — and a theory from a professor at a different school that statistics showed Dorfman couldn't have had so many wrong answers in common with another student, referred to as "Student X." The school alleged that Dorfman copied off of Student X.
But UCSD refused to identify Student X to Dorfman. The school wouldn't even verify where Student X was sitting in relation to Dorfman. The test was administered in different classrooms, so Student X could have been sitting next to Dorfman, or across the room, or in a different room completely, meaning it was entirely possible that Dorfman didn't copy off of Student X's test.
Dorfman has been trying to clear his name for years, and a judge is about to determine whether the school will be allowed to try Dorfman one more time (perhaps this time with the identity of Student X revealed).
At Dorfman's second hearing (both his first and second hearing decisions were thrown out by the schools provosts and a state trial judge), he argued against his accuser (his professor), by noting "40 other instances" of tests with as many matching answers as his and Student X's.
He said half of those matches came from students "who were sitting in different classrooms." Despite this, the school still found him responsible and expelled him, using the low "preponderance of evidence" standard.
The reason Student X's identity was never revealed, UCSD said, was that Student X wasn't "relevant" to the investigation because he or she wasn't also being charged with cheating. This is not how "relevant party" is defined in UCSD's policies, however, which merely state that a relevant party is "one with direct and material understanding of the allegation."
This is still a substandard definition, as Student X probably had no idea such an allegation took place or that he or she could hold evidence that could turn the case one way or the other, which means the policy was flawed to begin with.
But adding the extra caveat that a relevant party also had to be charged meant the school was changing its own definitions to further trap Dorfman. An appeals court criticized UCSD for violating its policies and Dorfman's rights to the point that identifying Student X would have been Dorfman's only means to defend himself.
The court said the school's refusal to identify Student X violated the "minimum procedural requirements" promised to students.
"The discovery of the location of where Student X sat during the exam, or in this case the identity of Student X to seek that information, falls within the evidence contemplated by the school's policies for investigating allegations of cheating," the court said, adding that Student X's identity was "highly relevant."
The court also rebutted UCSD's claim that identifying Student X would open him or her up to retaliation because Student X wasn't accused of anything, so how could he or she be retaliated against?
Judge Terry O'Rourke explained to UCSD's senior counsel, Michael Goldstein, just how absurd it was for the school to refuse to identify Student X.
"It would be so easy, wouldn't it, if we just found out that Student X was on the opposite side of the room? And then you don't have a case. And it seems to me to be the linchpin of this whole hearing," O'Rourke said.
"It's almost preposterous in my estimation that we're sitting around bickering about statistical probability and hearsay and someone calculated this or that ... It's so simple to find out where the other person was sitting, and you refuse to tell anyone."
An unidentified female judge agreed, adding that it seemed "like an enormous omission" for the school to refuse the identity.
Goldstein then admitted that UCSD does not "go out and find everyone who may be relevant" to an allegation, nor does it attempt to do anything else "that would also have been dispositive."
O'Rourke quickly responded: "Well, I think there's a word for that. It's called stacking the deck."
In other words, the school is only interested in collecting evidence that would support an accusation. Goldstein also admitted as much when the female judge asked how Dorfman could have questioned relevant parties without knowing their identities. Goldstein responded: "How you get the people in the room is your problem."
That same female judge also summed up UCSD's procedure as deciding "this was enough and we're not going to give the information to the defense to try to poke holes in it." Goldstein responded to this by saying: "That is the procedure here."
It's nice that a school is finally admitting that it has no interest in the truth, and that its only goal is to kick out accused students no matter what the evidence might show. Let that be a lesson to other students out there, not just those at UCSD: The deck is stacked against you. An accusation is all the school needs to kick you out.
Ashe Schow is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.