An article Monday about American University's in-house disciplinary council incorrectly stated that the school had dismissed a case in which a student was fined $15,600 for a dormitory offense. The fine was thrown out by an appeals panel, but the student was placed on social probation and barred from all dorms.
It was about 2 a.m., and the voices on the dormitory room phone at American University that Labor Day weekend sounded slurred and mocking. Rock music was playing in the background and the caller or callers, just back on campus for the start of fall classes, were obviously having a good time.
"Leonard guy, Leonard guy, Leonard guy," one caller shouted into the phone, slurring the "L."
But what might have been regarded as a typical college prank did not seem very funny to the student, a dorm adviser, who was jarred awake by this and more than a dozen similar calls that night. To him the calls were harassment, and he filed a formal complaint with the Conduct Council, AU's internal disciplinary body, naming his chief suspect.
Now the suspect, Ken Gold, a 21-year-old law and society major, and his girlfriend, Storm Jamison, 20, both juniors, face suspensions for the semester.
During a bizarre proceeding that began in the early afternoon and ended just before 2 a.m. the next day, Gold was found guilty of making the late night telephone calls and of lying about his whereabouts at the time they were made. Jamison was found guilty of lying to support his alibi.
The threatened suspensions could jeopardize honor student Jamison's four scholarships and hurt Gold's hopes for a career in law, and the two have gone to court to block them. Their attorney, who filed suit last week in U.S. District Court against the university and several school and dormitory officials, contends the couple was "set up" by people who regarded Gold as a troublemaker.
The suit levels a series of complaints against AU's secret in-house disciplinary body and its administrator, Joseph McGill, a university employe. The gist of the accusations is that the Oct. 31 proceedings had more in common with a novel by Franz Kafka than with due process.
"We think that from the very start it was intended to be a misuse of a system meant to deal with serious grievances," said Janice Cooper, a lawyer representing Gold and Jamison. "And they're innocent, to boot."
The university will not comment on the panel's action, in part because of the pending litigation and because Gold's suspension is before the provost and Jamison's case is set for rehearing.
This is not the first time the Conduct Council, which holds about 125 hearings a year on a range of complaints, has recommended swift and sure punishment for conduct unbecoming a student. Last year a student was found guilty of playing human bowling -- a peculiar college sport in which one student plays bowling ball to a group of human pins. It was his second offense, and the panel recommended that he pay a fine of $15,600 or leave school. AU's dean of students later threw out the case.
The events that led to Gold's council hearing, according to a transcript of the proceedings, began early Sunday morning last Labor Day weekend when Michael Ramirez, a student adviser at AU's Hughes Hall, began receiving the phone calls, four of which he recorded on his answering machine.
"Leonard guy, Leonard guy, Leonard guy, Leonard guy, Leonard guy, Leonard guy."
That call was an apparent reference to Ramirez, who used to live in AU's Leonard Hall. A second call transmitted a tasteless juvenile insult, and a third call combined the messages of the first two. A fourth call asked for the phone number of Sue Adler, the resident director of Hughes Hall and Ramirez's supervisor.
About four weeks later, Gold was notified by the Conduct Council that Ramirez had accused him of making the harassing phone calls and that a hearing would be held. Council procedures prohibit the presence of a lawyer, but Gold brought Jamison along to verify that he had been in her room at about the time he is alleged to have made the calls.
Gold said he did not know until he got to the hearing that Ramirez had recorded some of the calls, as well as a separate phone conversation Gold had with the dorm adviser after Ramirez filed the charges.
Two voice experts later said Gold is not or could not be determined to be the caller, according to attorney Cooper, although their subsequent statements failed to persuade an AU appeals board to overturn Gold's phone harassment conviction.
Without such evidence at his first hearing, however, Gold's defense was, "It's not my voice." He admitted visiting friends in Hughes that night but said he returned to his girlfriend's room, which has no phone, before 2 a.m. Jamison, prodded by Ramirez to be more specific, said she was sure Gold joined her no later.
The hearing took a more ominous turn at this point, and it soon developed that Ramirez and Adler had a surprise witness who would testify that Gold's departure from Hughes was "logged" at 2:24 a.m.
Ramirez interrupted Jamison's testimony, saying that perjury had just occurred. The council recessed to consider this new complaint.
Conduct Council administrator McGill, who according to council procedures is to oversee the panel and keep records of proceedings, said upon reconvening that a hearing on the perjury charges would be held "immediately following" the phone harassment hearing. According to the transcript of the taped proceedings, provided by Cooper, the following exchange occurred:
McGill: " . . . The board is going to file charges against the two of you for possible perjury . . . . The alleged incident occurred at 5:35 p.m. on Oct. 31, 1985."
Jamison: " . . . Is there any way that we could do it another time, because I really would like to speak to someone about this. Because it's getting rather serious . . . . "
McGill: "It certainly is."
Jamison: "As far as I'm concerned, it's out of hand, and I think that at this point in time I would like to consult with someone else."
McGill: " . . . Our procedures are that the respondents respond to the allegations on the spot. We are not a legal system in that, you know, we postpone for weeks, this kind of thing."
The three-member panel, drawn from a pool of students, faculty and other school staff, proceeded with the phone harassment hearing. No one testified to having seen or heard Gold make the calls. But the tapes and accounts from witnesses putting him in the dorm at the time -- plus reports of past run-ins with dorm authorities -- seemed sufficient for the panel.
It found Gold "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," McGill said, and it recommended that the dean of students place him on social probation for the rest of the academic year and ban him from Hughes Hall.
As the perjury hearing got under way, Adler said she and Ramirez had expected that Gold would use his girlfriend as an alibi and had come prepared with the surprise witness.
Gold and Jamison countered that they had not intentionally lied about the times. Both said it was hard to remember exact times from two months earlier, and Gold said he had not prepared a detailed defense because, being innocent, he did not think that he needed one.
McGill said, according to the transcript, " . . . From my point of view, and we will be deliberating, but from my point of view, I do feel that you came in here knowingly and intending to present information to this board so that indeed the respondent in the earlier case would have to be found 'not guilty.' "
After deliberating, McGill announced the two had been found guilty of knowingly submitting testimony "that was patently false," and that the board was recommending that they be suspended immediately for one semester.
An appeals board subsequently ordered a new hearing on the perjury charges. On Tuesday, the same conduct panel again found Gold guilty. Jamison's rehearing is scheduled for this week.
McGill declined to discuss the case but said he acts as a "facilitator" during Conduct Council proceedings and functions as an "investigator" on matters of false testimony. He said that about half of the board hearings deal with complaints filed by dorm staff and that it is rare for the board to hold perjury hearings or to recommend suspension.
"When they do, they feel there is certainly a reason," McGill said. Council actions and sentencing recommendations, though seldom overturned, are only recommendations to the dean or provost, he added, and the system "has ample safeguards to identify and correct error."
To Gold and Jamison, however, the university's disciplinary system "has been straight out of a Kafka novel," according to their attorney. And even if they are not suspended, Cooper said, Gold's troubles are not over. Last month he received notice from the Conduct Council of another charge against him stemming from that same back-to-school Labor Day weekend.
The crime: a dispute at Hughes over "improper buzzing up" to a friend's dorm room.