Fund Raising

Brown U. Is Ordered to Hand Over Donor Records to Lawyers of Former Student Accused of Rape

October 11, 2011

A federal judge has ordered Brown University to turn over fund-raising and donation documents sought by lawyers in a case involving a former student who says he was falsely accused of rape and pressured to leave the university.

Judge John J. McConnell Jr. of the U.S. District Court in Providence, R.I., ordered Brown last week to release the documents.

The former student, William McCormick III, was suspended in 2006 following "sexual misconduct" charges and later agreed to leave Brown permanently, but he says in a lawsuit that he did so under duress. In 2009, he sued Brown, the student who accused him, and her father, a wealthy Brown alumnus and donor, arguing that his accuser's father had used his sway at the university to influence how administrators handled the allegations.

Brown has objected to the order to release the fund-raising and donation documents involving the father, saying that the father should produce the records, according to the Associated Press. Brown was closed on Monday, and a spokesman for the university could not be reached.

The Chronicle has a policy of not naming alleged victims of sexual assault; to protect the identity of the female student the paper is also not identifying her father.

Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law, said he was unaware of any previous cases in which a private university has been ordered to turn over fund-raising documents. "This is a very unusual request in a discipline case," Mr. Lake said.

In at least two cases in recent years, the foundations of East Stroudsburg University and Iowa State University—both public universities—have been ordered to make some donor records available to the public under open-records laws.

Mr. Lake said fund-raising records are "some of the most sacrosanct files" that universities possess and that any university would be reluctant to share such information. He said he expects Brown to do as much possible to keep such information sealed or under protective order so it could not be accessible to the public.

But he said the strategy by Mr. McCormick and his lawyers might herald a new strategy for some students who are accused in college sexual-misconduct cases. Experts are already expecting more such cases to be investigated by colleges, following new guidance from the U.S. Education Department in April that urged more protections on campuses for victims of sexual assault.

Historically, students who have contested a college's finding of sexual misconduct have argued that they didn't receive due process or the proceedings were fundamentally unfair. Mr. McCormick and his lawyers are reaching for broader information—including fund-raising records—to show the proceedings were biased.

Mr. Lake said colleges that mete out punishments in such cases in the future should brace for similar requests for fund-raising records and other confidential information. "When the genie is out of the bottle," he said, "you can only cork it so much."