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CSG proposes new system for honor code revision process

By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 14, 2014

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Central Student Government Assembly passed a resolution that called on the administration to grant the elected body the power to screen all proposed amendments to the University’s Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

The resolution will now go to the Student Relations Advisory Committee for approval. The SRAC will hold a formal vote on each of the resolution’s stated recommendations in February.

The measures approved by SRAC will then be sent to E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, who — if all goes according to plan — will pass them to the University’s Office of General Counsel, and ultimately to University President Mary Sue Coleman for final consent.

Law student Jeremy Keeney, CSG student general counsel, said the proposed modifications would begin to fix the current system, which allows the Office of Student Conflict Resolution and faculty to propose amendments to the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities without CSG approval. This process could allow for changes to be made to the student Code of Conduct without students’ consent or input.

“I’m hoping (the resolution) will be successful,” Keeney said. “We provided Royster and the chair of SRAC a copy of this in December. They did reach out with some clarifying questions, but not with concerns.”

The CSG resolutions committee will now consider substantive changes to the Code of Conduct itself, targeting potential discrepancies between the CSG Bill of Student Rights and the statement’s list of rights and responsibilities.

A new resolution proposing amendments to students’ rights will go up for vote in the assembly by February 4, Keeney said.

“The combination of these (resolutions) will be one of the biggest amendments that have been passed in a while,” he added.

The efforts to standardize the Code of Conduct are not CSG’s only initiatives to increase administration transparency. Keeney and Chris Stevens, Chief Justice of the Central Student Judiciary, have also been working to improve University honor codes since last semester.

The two have met with administrators — including Harper and University Provost Martha Pollack — to address code inconsistencies. Right now, each unit within the University has its own honor code with varying levels of detail among the University’s schools and colleges. Although Keeney and Stevens do not wish to change the organization of codes by school, they agreed that they want to increase transparency and consistency among the codes.

Keeney said he recently sat in on two LSA honor code hearings with the permission of Esrold Nurse, assistant dean for undergraduate education. He was impressed with the impartiality with which the dean conducted himself, but he felt the students weren't aware they could have an advocate present to help present their cases.

“It's not clear what the rights are and what the process should be,” Stevens said.

The College of Engineering, for instance, has a procedural manual for its hearings — but Stevens said it is not published.

“Personally, I found the system to be unfair, at least at the student-peer level,” he said. “It just seems that the cards are stacked (against students).”

Keeney and Stevens said honor code reform would also benefit the administration by preventing any litigation stemming from wrongful expulsions or suspensions.

The pair researched the honor codes of the University of California, Berkeley, Princeton, Yale and Stanford, and has four principal changes they think should be adopted. First, they recommend that honor code hearings should include written opinions by the administration. Additionally, they said they believe students should have access to both advocates and hearing procedures, including appellate rules. They added that all honor codes should be easily available online.

As per Pollack’s recommendation, Keeney and Stevens will meet with a group comprised of all the University’s associate deans and vice provosts next week to initiate discussion of reform, and to potentially establish a working relationship with the group for the rest of the year. The meeting will be the first of its kind.

“Academic integrity is extremely important, and I welcome the fact CSG is thinking about our policies,” Pollack wrote in a statement. “I will be interested to see how their work progresses.

Daily Staff Reporter Jack Bologna contributed reporting.