Jesse Cheng announced on Monday that he would be stepping down as Student Regent of the University of California system. The announcement came just days before the final Regents meeting of his term.
The student conduct office at UC Irvine, Cheng’s home campus, ruled in March that Cheng had sexually assaulted a former girlfriend the previous fall. He appealed the finding, stepping down only after his appeal was rejected. (Cheng had admitted to sexual assault in an email to the woman, but later claimed that the confession was false, and written under pressure from his accuser. He was arrested in connection with the incident a few weeks after it allegedly occurred, but released without charges.)
In an era in which the University of California has pursued student activists with the aggressive use of both criminal and campus judicial sanctions, the mild treatment of Cheng — who, though he now denies any wrongdoing, both admitted to and was found guilty of sexual assault — stands out. In particular, it contrasts dramatically with how the university and local prosecutors have treated the “Irvine 11,” a group of students who are currently facing trial for allegedly disrupting a campus speech by the Israeli ambassador to the US.
I’ll admit that I’m ambivalent about the charges against Jesse Cheng. I know Jesse, and I’d like to believe that he’s not capable of what he’s been accused of. But whatever my personal thoughts on his case, the fact is that he was found by a student conduct board to have committed a sexual assault, and given his confession, it’s difficult to argue that the board’s conclusion was egregiously in error.
That Cheng received probation, and was allowed to keep his seat on the UC Regents until he himself chose to give it up, while the Irvine 11 saw the student organization to which they belong suspended and now each face the possibility of six months in jail? That’s not right. That’s not proportionate. That’s not legitimate.
And that disproportion, that illegitimacy, casts the whole University of California judicial system, as well as the UC’s relationship with law enforcement, into question.