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SACUA Notebook: Harper discusses revisions to Student Code

Aaron Augsburger/Daily
Former President Robben Wright Fleming is shown during a student demonstration in 1969.

By Stephanie Steinberg, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 7, 2009

Significant changes are being considered for the document that governs student rights, responsibilities and the consequences for policy violations on campus.

Speaking before the University faculty’s leading governing body yesterday, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, briefed members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs on several controversial changes to the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities under consideration.

The Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities is the official set of regulations that students must follow while enrolled at the University. The document outlines the rights students have at the University and details potential consequences for some violations including illegal drug and alcohol use, hazing and sexual assaults. Every three years, amendments are introduced to the document, usually with little controversy.

But this year’s proposed amendments — including ones to the burden of proof needed in cases brought against students, gender-neutral policy language and the amendment process itself — have been a source of contention.

From April 1 to Nov. 1, 2009, students, faculty and staff submitted proposals to the Student Relations Advisory Committee — the student group that works with faculty and student government organizations on student issues.

Harper said the “hottest item” right now is a proposal to lower the standard of evidence needed to find a student responsible for a policy violation. The change calls for a move from a “clear and convincing” standard to a “preponderance of evidence” standard.

Under the proposal, preponderance of evidence is defined as the “amount of evidence that makes it more likely than not that the facts demonstrate a violation of college policy.” The University’s current standard requires the reviewer of a case to be confident that a violation occurred.

In essence, the change would lessen the burden needed to punish a student.

According to the amendment, the proposed change would bring the University’s standards in line with those at other universities, which primarily rely on the preponderance of evidence standard.

Harper said concerns about the change primarily focused on sexual assault cases.

“It’s been interesting because usually people are pretty blasé about changes to the Statement,” Harper said. “But this year, there has been a lot of activity because of this particular issue.”

Despite some resistance, Harper told SACUA members that most students are in support of the move to the preponderance of evidence.

The other changes to the Statement include revising the document’s language to be gender-neutral — replacing terms like “his” or “her” with “their” — and expanding students’ ability to propose an amendment by allowing any student to propose a change to the code at any time. Currently, amendments must be proposed by either MSA, the Senate Assembly or the University’s executive officers.

Harper said the Division of Student Affairs is trying to discourage the policy change because the office doesn’t want to minimize the roles of students and faculty in revising the Statement.

“(SACUA and MSA members) are elected by their constituents, and we didn’t want to create a process that would in some ways disempower them,” Harper said.

A changing student body

Harper also discussed ways faculty members can better relate to and interact with students in classes, explaining how student behaviors and ideologies have changed over time.

Harper said students have different notions of gender identity and sexual orientation, citing MSA’s current push for gender-neutral housing.