- Aaron Augsburger/Daily
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.
“They think we need to update our notions of sexuality,” she said referring to University administrators and employees.
SACUA member Gina Poe, an associate professor of anesthesiology and molecular and integrative physiology, asked Harper whether University students are more involved in University affairs than in the past.
Harper said students are more committed to social justice than they were two decades ago.
“I think students live in a much more diverse world now than they did 10-20 years ago and that actually faculty and staff are behind, and we’re trying to catch up with them.”
Robert Fraser, vice chair of SACUA and assistant director of the Mardigian Library at the University's Dearborn campus, asked Harper what SACUA could be doing “for the sake of University students.”
Harper replied that the faculty should be committed to issues of diversity, saying that many University students are biracial or multiracial and are aware of their differences.
She said SACUA can encourage faculty members to be sensitive to what happens in the classroom and be mindful of what they say.
“Sometimes we say stuff, and (students) hear it very differently,” Harper said.
Recreational facilities overhaul
Harper also outlined plans to conduct an audit that will address the cleanliness and current condition of recreational buildings on campus, admitting to SACUA members that significant renovations are needed to bring the facilities up to date.
“We think if we can restore some of the hours, get it clean and get the equipment fixed and repaired that that will buy us another year to really understand the nature of the problem and fix it,” Harper said.
Statistics Prof. Ed Rothman, a SACUA member, expressed concerns that the quality of the University’s recreational facilities does not match the amount faculty pay to use them.
Harper agreed and said recreation facilities are “less than what they should be in terms of hours, equipment and cleanliness.” She acknowledged that many faculty, staff and graduate students go elsewhere to work out like the Ann Arbor YMCA.
Harper also said the University’s facilities need to be improved before more University employees use them.
“The reality is the poorer the facilities are, the fewer people want to go,” she said.
Rothman suggested reducing the cost of membership so more University employees join.
However, Wayne Stark, a SACUA member and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, disagreed with Rothman and said faculty members would pay more for recreational services if they were “worthwhile.”
“Faculty are not going to want to sign up when the treadmill is in front of a brick wall,” Stark said.
Stark also questioned whether it is realistic to renovate recreational facilities when University administrators are planning to cut $100 million out of the budget over the next three years.