Changes to the AMTA Sanctions Process

Changes to the AMTA Sanctions Process

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Ruby Scanlon started this petition to American Mock Trial Association

To the AMTA Board of Directors,

In the wake of the recent sanctions that AMTA has levied against the Yale Mock Trial Association and subsequent discussions regarding the rule against improper invention, a group of us wanted to find a more efficient and effective way to communicate with the Board directly rather than posting online. The purpose of this letter is not to re-litigate the specifics of Yale’s alleged invention. Rather, we want to consolidate a number of concerns that AMTA community members have regarding the sanctions process and Rule 8.9 and to suggest solutions to the issues that have come up. None of the authors or signatories of this letter are in any way affiliated with the Yale Mock Trial Association, yet all of us want to help propose solutions to the issues we’ve identified so that the Board can consider them.

To begin, some of us agree with Yale’s interpretation of the rules and facts of this case, some of us don’t. Some of us agree with parts of their reasoning but not all of it. But all of us have concerns about the specific sanctions levied. Rule 9.5(3) of the AMTA rulebook provides a clear list of available sanctions that the Board is “limited to”. These are the only sanctions that the rulebook allows the Board to hand down. In this case, AMTA seems to have decided on sanctions that are not permitted by the AMTA rulebook (specifically, stripping Yale of the NCT championship and All-Americans). From our vantage point, this looks like AMTA is breaking their own rules when punishing someone else for breaking the rules. We ask that going forward AMTA communicate exactly what sanctions are permitted for the Board to hand down, and then abide by that list in all future cases.

We are also concerned about the rules the Board is enforcing. Rule 8.9, in particular, is confusing to many teams trying to interpret it. Putting aside Yale’s application of the rule, many teams have made it clear that 8.9 is ambiguous and that the guidance memos were largely unhelpful in providing clarity. This ambiguity was confirmed when, in the sanction decision, AMTA announced it will release a comprehensive guidance memo this summer in response to the recent instances where AMTA has found that a school violated the rules. The sheer number of these instances reflects that there is a great deal of confusion amongst teams and it is troubling to have such harsh penalties for the misunderstanding of that rule prior to the release of a comprehensive guidance memo that is meant to clear up any such misunderstandings. We understand that many Board members feel that the rule is clear, however, the Board’s duty is to make the rules explicitly clear to the rest of the community—or at least clearly communicate the Board’s own understanding of each rule. Regardless of Yale’s intent and the outcome of their specific sanctions process, we feel that misunderstandings in good faith do not warrant such harsh penalties. We ask that the Board a) clarifies exactly what Rule 8.9 means and b) makes sure that member schools understand the rule before handing down harsh punishments for violations of said rule.

We are also concerned by the lack of information regarding how AMTA decides cases like these. There is no publicly stated burden of proof, we don’t know if there is a presumption of innocence, and there is no available information as to the benchmark vote required to levy sanctions—whether it is a simple majority, ⅔ majority, or something else. In all U.S. legal proceedings, there is a publicly stated burden of proof, a presumption of innocence, and a clear standard of conviction. Under the current system, students are asked to defend themselves without fully understanding what exactly they must prove and how decisions are being made. Thus, we ask that the Board clarify the process by which they come to their decisions.

Our final issue with the sanctions process is with how communication was handled between AMTA and Yale Mock Trial. If it is true that Yale had to produce a substantive response to the CRC’s follow-up questions in only seven hours, we believe that is not an acceptable way for a governing body to deal with member schools—especially students coming off of the notoriously stressful NCT and NCT prep period. Given this, we ask that in the future students are given a fair timeframe for all of their responses. The way we interpret a “fair timeframe” is one that is publicly available, explicit, and applied equally in all cases. We believe it is reasonable to expect that programs have equal knowledge of (a) when their responses are due, (b) when, roughly, they will be notified of a decision, and (c) when that decision will be publicly released. We ask that programs be given at least 4 days (96 hours) to produce any response to an allegation or substantive question, that the Board/CRC make sure to give a rough estimate (within a week) of when a decision might be reached, and that teams are given 12 hours notice before the decision is made publicly available.

Finally, we want AMTA to know that many students and coaches have expressed agreement with the goals of this letter, yet are unwilling to sign out of fear of repercussions from the Board in the future. Many students have even received notices from coaches instructing or advising them to not express any public opinions on the aforementioned issues. We hope, however, that in writing this, we can start an open dialogue between the AMTA Board and the community about how we can improve this activity going forward. Thank you for taking the time to read this and we look forward to a great season ahead.

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