Campus News

UW-Madison expels three as sexual assault punishments grow more severe

In private hearings typically held in Bascom Hall, three-person panels hand down sanctions for students found responsible for sexual assault. 

Image By: Amileah Sutliff

UW-Madison handed down their harshest-ever sanctions for sexual assaults that occurred in 2016, expelling three students from the university.

That number matches the total expulsions over the past ten years—from 2006-’15.

The number of new expulsions marks a departure from the previous years’ punishments, though policy surrounding the hearings and sanctions hasn’t changed.

In recent years, suspensions have been the most common punishment for perpetrators of sexual assault, according to data provided by university officials. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 18 suspensions for sexual assault and only 3 expulsions.

However, that gap disappeared in 2016.

There have also been three suspensions for 2016 sexual assaults so far, matching that year’s expulsion total.

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Above are the outcomes for all of the sexual assault hearings held by the university since 2009. Three 2016 cases still have unknown outcomes and could be ongoing. Graph by Peter Coutu.


When deciding the punishment for each case, UW-Madison’s code of conduct is tied to the four degrees of sexual assault found in state statutes, according to Tonya Schmidt, director of UW-Madison’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Third-, second- and first-degree sexual assault, which involve some form of penetrative assault, result in either suspensions or expulsions.

The more violent, the more likely a student is to get expelled, according to Schmidt.

“We don't have a cookie-cutter approach to it because each sexual assault case that's penetrative could have some different nuances to it,” Schmidt said. “If there is something more violent—obviously a sexual assault is violent, to begin with—but if there's false imprisonment or strangulation or those threats we talk about, that could increase it up to something like an expulsion. So we look at every one of them as a case-by-case basis.”

Chair of UW-Madison’s student government Katrina Morrison said she is “pleased that UW-Madison is beginning to take sexual assault allegations more seriously,” but that she still wants to see “the administration do more to hold perpetrators accountable and stop the sexual assault epidemic on our campus.”

She said she’d still like to see administration prosecute assailants more frequently, raise more awareness regarding assault and provide survivors with more readily accessible resources.

Among those expelled recently are Alec Cook and Alec Shiva, two former UW-Madison students whose arrests made waves throughout campus.

Cook currently faces nearly two dozen criminal counts, including second-degree sexual assault, strangulation and stalking after 11 women have come forward to report him. Shiva is also facing felony counts of strangulation and second-degree sexual assault, as well as false imprisonment.

Both students have drawn significant media coverage, which Schmidt said was not a factor in how her office handled the hearings.

Students can also be placed on probation after being found responsible for sexual assault, which is the usual sanction after a fourth-degree sexual assault—defined as “unwanted or nonconsensual touching of privates areas”—is committed, according to Schmidt.

“For anyone found responsible for those types of situations, our typical sanction is a two-year probationary period” and some mandated educational programming, Schmidt said.

In addition to the three expulsions and suspensions handed down, there were two probations and four not responsible verdicts following UW-Madison investigations of 2016 sexual assaults, according to university officials.

The outcomes of three cases stemming from 2016 investigations are still unknown to The Daily Cardinal, and some may still be ongoing. UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone said the university is not in a position to regularly update the outcomes of sexual assault hearings, as they typically only compile the results in annual reports. 

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