As a former University of Pennsylvania student and Level 3 sex offender contemplates reapplying to the university, school officials, lawyers and students say the difficult decision to readmit a sex offender should strictly be made on a case-by-case basis.
After serving less than two years in prison for having sex with a 14-year-old boy, former economics graduate students Kurt Mitman is considering reapplying to the school. Mitman was sentenced to serve two-and-a-half to five years in prison in March 2005, but was placed on parole in 2006 for good behavior and remorse for the crime.
Mitman began taking classes at UPenn in 2006 without the university’s knowledge of his conviction, but was banned when the victim’s mother reported the conviction to UPenn after discovering Mitman was taking classes, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the independent student newspaper on campus.
Ten stipulations are attached to Mitman’s parole, including one that states he cannot have direct contact with minors, but none specifically prohibit classes at the university.
UPenn spokeswoman Phyllis Holtzman said the school will now consider a request to reinstate Mitman.
“If he asked to re-enroll, we would consider it, but it would be dependent on him maintaining certain conditions,” Holtzman said.
Holtzman declined to elaborate on the university’s conditions because she said the situation is hypothetical, as Mitman has not yet reapplied. Holtzman explained UPenn has no specific policy regarding admitting convicted sex offenders.
“Everybody is individually evaluated,” she said.
The idea of college students accused or convicted of sexual offenses seeking readmission to universities has come up in the past, most notably when members of the Duke University lacrosse team were accused of rape, said Steve Smith, a Bangor, Maine defense attorney who specializes in defending accused sex offenders.
Smith said college sex crimes do not usually involve a “deep-seeded pathology” and can shake up a campus community while stirring overstated responses assuming the accused’s guilt prior to a verdict, such as in the Duke case.
“They can be high-profile cases, which impact the university’s reputation, and they tend to get the local activist groups riled up,” Smith said. “The Duke University rape case was a classic example of politically correct faculty and student groups running amok on thin evidence.”
Though sexual offenses are lumped together in databases and in the public consciousness, Smith said there are various levels of crimes that should be distinguished by their severity.
“Many offenses are quite low-level, but there is almost no distinction in the eyes of the public who do not think in those terms,” he said. “Many sex offenders of college age were involved in so-called ‘Romeo and Juliet’ romances with a younger teen who may have been just under the legal age but close enough in age to the offender to make the circumstances relatively innocent.
“There needs to be better gradation between these types of offenses and the classic stranger abduction rape,” he continued.
In an interview last week before a student was allegedly sexually assaulted in Warren Towers on Sunday morning, BU spokesman Colin Riley said it is unlikely a Level 3 sex offender would be admitted to the university, but said each case would be treated differently.
“You are dealing with individuals and individual situations and a range of classification of sex offenders covering a broad range,” Riley said.
Nathalie Medina, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said some leniency should be considered in certain cases.
“People make mistakes, and just because they have done something bad doesn’t mean they are not people and they don’t have their rights anymore,” she said. “I am not going to live my life checking the sex offender registry everywhere I live.”
School of Hospitality Administration sophomore Janet Kim said she would expect the administration to inform students if a convicted sex-offender were to attend BU.
“I don’t want to be in the dark and not know that I’m going to school with a sex offender,” she said.