SARATOGA SPRINGS — A mid-level state appeals court has ruled that Skidmore College must clear the record of, and re-admit, a student who was expelled from the school in 2015 over an alleged on-campus sexual coercion incident.
The five-judge Third Department Appellate Division court in Albany found unanimously last month that the investigation conducted by the private liberal arts college was flawed, so the disciplinary finding should be expunged and the student readmitted to the school — though it generally upheld the administrative disciplinary process that the college followed after the investigation.
In its most prominent criticism, the court found that the college didn't tell the accused student the details of the allegations against him after the investigation started, as was required by the college's discipline rules.
"In particular, we find that the failure to establish the nature of the allegations at the outset of the proceeding by stating them in the complaint had an ongoing prejudicial effect upon (the student's) ability to prepare a defense that continued throughout the investigation and was aggravated by respondent's failure to notify him of a new factual allegation until after the investigation had closed," the judges ruled.
Skidmore spokesman Andy Camp said the private liberal arts college would not comment on the decision, and he would not say whether the student has or will be re-enrolling.
The case involved allegations that the student spent several hours with a female student in his dormitory room in January 2014. During that time, the court said both parties agree they lay down together in a bed, kissed, and took off some or all of their clothing — and that they had agreed in advance not to engage in sexual intercourse. It doesn't appear the college knew of the incident until October 2015, when the college received a formal complaint of misconduct against the man, charging him with violating the college's 2013-14 Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy.
Following an internal investigation and a hearing before a college administrator, the male student was expelled. There were no criminal charges filed.
The former student subsequently sued the college, but in 2016, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas D. Nolan in Ballston Spa dismissed the case, in effect ruling in the college's favor. The former student appealed, leading to last month's decision.
The appeals court found that, while the accused student was interviewed during the investigation, he should have been told of the allegations against him, rather than asked to recall details of an incident that occurred more than a year earlier. The court also found that the female student made a new allegation about how far sexual contact went during the investigation, and that was not properly handled.
The final investigative report, the court said, lacked specifics, finding only that the complainant "'was coerced into acts she was not comfortable performing.' Thus, it is impossible to determine whether the panel based its decision, in whole or in part, on the new allegation."
On other issues raised during the appeal — about the fairness of the administrative hearing process and whether the college handled it properly — the court found the college acted fairly and within the bounds of its authority.
Names and other identifying information about the students was excluded from the lawsuit. The court record in Ballston Spa and the appeal identified the male student only as "John Doe."