Questions About ASSU VP Cheating Scandal

ASSU Vice President Jay de la Torre resigned on Wednesday, and today issued a statement in The Stanford Daily explaining his resignation is due to his forthcoming suspension for an Honor Code violation, resulting from copying code in CS106A. While this has to be a disappointment to all those who voted for his slate, and those who did not (The Review endorsed Hauser/Sprague), it is striking that 1) the incident was a year old, meaning that de la Torre was aware of it while running for office and 2) that he seeks to justify his actions by pointing out that he had taken an incomplete in the class before, and that it was late in the quarter, and that he was concerned that he would fail the class if he did not cheat. Cheating is cheating whether it’s to turn and F into a C or a B into an A, or just to avoid doing the work. The facts remain that Mr. de la Torre ran for office while under review for an Honor Code violation that he knew he had committed. In the wake of this scandal, a few questions remain.

What did ASSU President David Gobaud know, and when did he know it? How does he excuse his ignorance on the matter?

One is left to wonder if ASSU President David Gobaud knew that his running mate was under review for an Honor Code violation. It is possible this was just a Thomas Eagleton situation where the VP candidate had not been thoroughly vetted. While that is better than the alternative (Messrs. Gobaud and de la Torre conspiring to deceive the electorate, rather than Mr. de la Torre acting alone), it is still problematic that Messrs. Gobaud and de la Torre did not have a close enough personal relationship before running together to share this sort of information. Mr. Gobaud tapped Mr. de la Torre to run because of his wide array of connections (everyone who knows Jay likes him, and he could basically deliver Sigma Nu) rather than a personal connection, and Mr. de la Torre cited a respected elder’s persuasion, widely believed to be outgoing ASSU Executive Jonny Dorsey. While it is exceedingly unlikely Mr. Gobaud will admit to knowing of Mr. de la Torre’s infractions–and he should certainly be granted the benefit of a doubt–that he didn’t know does not excuse him entirely. Regardless of what he says, the trust of this administration has been irrevocably breached and it would be worth continuing to investigate what Mr. Gobaud knew.

Was Mr. de la Torre attempting to use the Vice Presidential position to lessen his punishment?

This question has explosive implications, so conclusions should not be drawn hastily. The evidence for this contention is that Mr. de la Torre elected to run for ASSU Vice President despite his guilt in the matter at hand. Those convicted of Honor Code violations are given what is known as the standard sanction except in cases of extreme hardship, which is a very narrowly interpreted doctrine that generally only applies to international students who would lose their ability to return to the United States or students who would be left in a desperate financial situation. In a hearing over the summer, Mr. de la Torre was sentenced to the standard sanction, which in this case is a quarter suspension and 40 hours of community service. What is difficult to explain though, is Mr. de la Torre’s decision to appeal that sentence (which was confirmed this fall). Either he was unaware of the judicial affairs panel’s rules (presumably his judicial advisor provided guidance) or more disconcertingly he believed that if he were elected, those circumstances would mitigate his punishment. Mr. de la Torre needs to answer these questions. Mr. de la Torre also needs to be held to account for how he could claim that he was the best candidate for the job despite both his cheating and his concealing of it from the electorate. Mr. de la Torre’s apology did not adequately address his knowing deceit of the electorate.

What should be done?

As far as this goes, I don’t think we should go to a Pre-12th Amendment-style system where the President and VP are not elected together, but this incident is troubling. While it should not affect the agenda of the Gobaud administration, or the student government significantly, it is disappointing and embarrassing for our University, especially in light of the revelations in the last issue of the Review. If any of you have ideas for what to do, I’d be interested to hear it, but this seems like a case where nothing is the best action. The board of judicial affairs has dealt with Mr. de la Torre’s actions as they would any other student’s, barring further evidence of wrongdoing, that should be the end of it. Nor should students accused of Fundamental Standard or Honor Code violations be forbidden from running for election, or even forced to reveal that information to the electorate. Such accusations are private matters that do not require action unless there is a conviction. To blackball Mr. de la Torre before he had been convicted of anything would have done a greater disservice to the student body than his actions. Mr. de la Torre made the morally dubious decision to run, and he now has to deal with public embarrassment rather than a private one. Nevertheless, Gobaud / de la Torre won a fair election, and now we have to live with its actions, for better or worse.

All that said, I would like to commend Mr. de la Torre for coming clean in such a public forum. I’m sure that was not easy for him to do, and while he is correct to say that he owed it to the student body, it was still good of him to do so. Personally I wish him all the best. I have never heard anyone say a bad word about the man, and he has been very gracious the few times we’ve interacted. I hope that both Mr. de la Torre and Stanford University can move forward in a positive direction after this.

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