UC Irvine Office Finds Student Regent Guilty of Sexual Battery

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UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng was found guilty last Thursday of a student conduct violation for sexual battery by UC Irvine's Student Conduct Office.

The UC Irvine Student Conduct Policy defines sexual battery as "unwanted touching" of a sexual or physical nature and the sanction for the ruling is probation until the end of the quarter, according to Cheng. Other possible consequences for such a charge of sexual battery under the policy include suspension or dismissal from the university. He has seven days to appeal the ruling and said he is undecided about whether he will appeal.

The woman who brought the case to the student conduct office - who said she wished to be identified only as "Laya" in order to protect her identity as a victim of an alleged sex crime - said she was relieved that at least part of the process has come to a close.

The campus's conduct office conducted an investigation into the matter and interviewed both Cheng and Laya before coming to their decision.

"It's been a very long time coming," she said. "I haven't gotten any justice until now. UC Irvine's decision has made me feel liberated."

Despite the ruling, Cheng said he "still maintains (his) innocence as a whole," saying that the student conduct process requires a significantly lower threshold of evidence to find a defendant guilty than criminal proceedings - which he has not faced as a result of the sexual battery allegation brought against him.

"In a criminal proceeding you need to prove beyond reasonable doubt," he said. "Student conduct just needs evidence that this likely could have happened. It's a much lower standard of innocence than the (District Attorney)."

The Orange County District Attorney did not press charges against Cheng after the case was forwarded to the office by the Irvine Police Department, citing a lack of corroborating evidence and the long history between Cheng and Laya. Both Cheng and Laya have acknowledged that they were in a long-term relationship prior to the event that led to the sexual battery allegation.

The UC Irvine Student Conduct Policy states that "even if the criminal justice system chooses not to prosecute, the University can discipline a student if there is a preponderance of the evidence that the student has committed a violation."

Officials in the UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct declined to comment, citing student privacy.

But Jollene Levid, national chairperson of AF3IRM - a feminist women's group that is organizing rallies on Laya's behalf - said the fact that the campus found Cheng responsible for sexual battery is "doubly impacting."

"I think that's almost contradictory that he's writing off the UC system decision, that's the system he's operating within," she said. "He's basically an officer of that system, I don't know what that says."

Cheng declined to comment on how the decision impacted his status as student regent and whether he would attend the UC Board of Regents meeting this week at UC San Francisco's Mission Bay campus.

Protests against his continued service are planned for the meeting on Wednesday by AF3IRM and other women's rights coalitions.

UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said in an e-mail that Russell Gould, the chairman of the Board of Regents, has requested that the UC's Chief Compliance and Audit Officer Sheryl Vacca review Irvine's student conduct process to "assure its adequacy for the Regents' purposes."

"The Chairman has also asked the Committee on Governance to convene expeditiously upon completion of this review to determine what action, if any, is warranted," he said in the e-mail. "During this time, students will continue to have representation by Student Regent-designate (Alfredo) Mireles."

Both Laya and Levid said the conduct decision represented a first step in the process to eventual justice.

"We see the latest decision by the student conduct office as a positive step in getting (Laya) legal justice," Levid said. "Not everyone finds justice right away, that's why we're continuing to fight."


Jordan Bach-Lombardo is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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