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COS Stories: Burkquemada*

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition at Dartmouth College, but capricious Assistant Dean of the College for Campus Life Kate Burke comes quite close, as an alumnus from a recent class testifies:

When I arrived at the College freshman year, I was told by several upperclassmen and a member of the OPAL office that if I ever end up in a COS hearing and wanted a fair trial, I better pray that April Thompson is the chair. This wasn’t because Thompson was a paragon of justice, but because the alternative, Katherine “Mad Dog” Burke, was as bad as it could possibly get.


Kate Burke.jpgDuring my time at Dartmouth I heard many stories about Burke. Rarely does such an obscure administrator achieve campus notoriety and unanimous opposition among all students. She seems to be a pathetically insecure woman, one who gets pleasure out of trying to control students’ futures through her role as the chair of the Committee on Standards. During hearings, Burke frequently drives students to tears and condescendingly rips apart the self-esteem of all who cross her.

Burke was famous for two things: first, she would make up her own “rules of evidence” regarding COS proceedings. This was most frequently done during cases regarding plagiarism. Second, whenever Burke sensed that a hearing was moving in favor of the student, she would stop the trial, take the student outside, and accuse him/her of breaking the rules of the hearing and threatening to never let the student step foot on campus again if they didn’t change their attitude. It was psychological manipulation at its finest by a human being with absolutely no code of morality or personal ethics.

I had a run-in with Burke herself. During Sophomore Summer I was stopped by the Hanover Police in a routine stop. I was walking back from the golf course and they stopped me to find out what I was doing. They wanted to see if I was drunk or up to no good. I didn’t have my ID on me, so they needed to verify who I was; I assume that they wanted to check if I had any outstanding arrest warrants. While they were trying to look up my name, someone fat fingered my last name and searched a Zero “0” instead of an O. After a few minutes of confusion they figured out their mistake and sent me on my way.

Three weeks later I got an email from Judicial Affairs saying I was being charged with disorderly conduct and providing false information. I eventually got the police report explaining the entire situation. While the Director of Judicial Affairs Nathan Miller was understanding about the matter, he insisted that the trial continue. Eventually I obtained letters from the District Attorney’s office and the Lebanon District Court explaining the matter and absolving me of all wrongdoing. I figured the COS hearing would be a breeze and the stories I had heard about Kate Burke were an exaggeration. There was no way she wouldn’t call off the hearing after discovering that the police had made an honest mistake.

While most members of COS were confused as to why there was even a trial. Burke insisted that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there was a “possibility” that I might be guilty. She felt the need to repeatedly remind committee members that statements from the Hanover Police saying I was not disorderly did not mean I didn’t fall under the College’s definition of “disorderly conduct”. She repeatedly stated that the College has its own rules and it was up to her to decide what disorderly conduct was.

At one juncture in the hearing, a faculty member pointedly asked Burke what she meant by the College’s definition of disorderly conduct. She respond, “That is what this committee is to decide”. Afterwards when a committee member referenced a phrase in the police report, Burke reprimanded her for bringing up the question and proceeded to provide her own opinion about what happened during the night in question. That the female student is no longer a member of the Committee on Standards

The day after the hearing, when it was announced that the committee voted to find me “not responsible” of all charges, Burke was visibly upset. The first words out of her mouth when she handed me the results were, “This doesn’t mean we think you didn’t do it.” During what was supposed to be an hour-long meeting to discuss the judicial process, Burke launched into a tirade about how I wasn’t going to get away with my supposed serious crimes. At one point she felt the need to rise up from her chair and stomp around the room as she discussed how I may have fooled the committee but did not fool her.

About five minutes into the meeting, she told me that if she had a vote on the committee, she would have voted for suspension. After that insult, I simply got up and left, refusing to be degraded any further by an anti-student administrator. As I was leaving, a stunned Burke shouted “If you spit on the sidewalk, I am going to suspend you for five terms.”

It took over four months to resolve the process. As a result of the mess, I was blocked from leading a DOC trip the day before the trip was supposed to leave. DOC scrambled to find a replacement. My attempts to check into Banner Student were blocked due to a “hold” that Burke had placed on my status as a student. Eventually, I had to pay a fine for failing to check in on time, but I paid a much higher price when I lost my dignity and self-esteem during Burke’s Soviet-style trial.

The fact that COS is a corrupt, ineffective process is news to no one on campus. But Kate Burke’s blatant disregard for College policy, personal attacks against students, and destruction of any dignity left in COS/Judicial Affairs process demands attention from us all.

It’s time to clean house in Hanover.

*With apologies to Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada (1420-1498), who, modern scholars seem to have ascertained, was a somewhat nicer guy than his depiction in traditional history would have you believe.

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