Now that the University has concluded the process of gathering community input on its Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, proposed revisions to the document will work their way through a multi-step vetting process before eventually landing on the desk of University President Mark Schlissel.
Every three years, the University’s faculty and student governing bodies provide the University president with potential revisions to the student statement, which outlines conduct expectations and disciplinary measures for students.
The next step in the process falls on the Student Relations Advisory Committee, which is comprised of 12 faculty members, four students and one liaison from the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. SRAC is currently charged with reviewing the initial batch of proposals, including those offered by Central Student Government.
Statistics Prof. Edward Rothman, who serves as SRAC chair during the current amendment cycle, said the committee aims to clarify the proposed amendments, but not question the merits of each change.
“We spent about an hour or so going through the proposed amendments student government brought forward,” he said.
Rothman said he had been on the committee for several years, and proposals from students are of particular interest to the committee. He said the committee heard a presentation in which Public Policy sophomore Jacob Pearlman, CSG general counsel, outlined amendments suggested by CSG.
CSG proposed seven revisions: establish formal venues to gather input on revisions, an honor pledge, implement formal education about the student statement during new student orientation and a consistent three-year amendment cycle.
CSG also proposed an amendment to ensure students aren’t disciplined for violating revisions to the statement enacted after the action in question occurred. They also proposed formalizing the University president’s need to select amendments before the end of the school year, and allowing CSG access to records related to the process.
Pearlman spearheaded the process of composing CSG’s proposals, and Rothman noted that having a single person author all the proposals was incredibly useful.
“When proposals are written by committees you’re trying to incorporate a myriad of of perspectives in the document,” Rothman said. “It’s much more difficult to get a cohesive message than what you might get from having a single person write the amendments.”
Pearlman said he was surprised by the lack of student knowledge about the statement, considering it pertains only to students.
“The statement is supposed to be a ‘community-owned document’ that highlights the values of our institution,” Pearlman said. “Unfortunately, most students are entirely unaware of what the statement is, and how it can affect them.”
He also said the current CSG administration focused on increasing student voice and input in the University decision-making processes, which resulted in amendments pertaining to the revision process itself.
“The amendment process as it stands is potentially restrictive to student voice, and much of the true power is held by faculty and administrators,” Pearlman said. “Faculty are not subject to the rules outlined in the statement.”
Though the process begins with students’ participation, it does not always end with their input informing the final amendments. During the 2001 amendment cycle, none of the proposed amendments put forth by student government — then called the Michigan Student Assembly — made it into the statement.
Erik Wessel, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, said his office helps guide the statement revision process since they receive all the amendments proposed before they are sent for SRAC’s consideration.
“OSCR is really the keeper of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities,” Wessel said. “Obviously we use it everyday in our general work.”
Wessel said OSCR emphasizes a restorative process for addressing statement violations. After a student is notified of the allegations against him or her, he or she attends an intake meeting where OSCR presents options for resolving the violation.
He said the collaborative relationship between CSG and OSCR during this year’s amendment process was more cohesive compared to recent years.
“I think that we’re seeing the fruits of that labor here,” Wessel said. “I’m not sure if we’ve seen this caliber in the relationship with CSG ever before.”
Rothman said he appreciated that many of the proposals focused on raising awareness about the statement.
“Students should be aware of having the implications of having the proposed changes in place,” he said. “Students are taking the responsibility to make modifications to put a process in there to assure that students coming to the University will at least know about these issues.”
He also said he respected the honor code proposal, and deemed it a proactive approach to dealing with issues like the January ski trip, during which fraternity members inflicted several hundred thousand dollars worth of damages.
“It’s as though we imagine the way to fight crime is by building more prisons, and that, of course, is nonsense,” Rothman said. “We’ve got to be proactive, and figure out why it is people are engaged in crime. And here with respect to students, by moving upstream and attempting to build awareness and engagement by the students in these changes, we hope to reduce the issues that come about as a result of bad behavior.”
Rothman said the manner in which students treat one another is essential to the University experience, and the statement is the best method of clarifying appropriate behavior before students enter murky situations.
“The notion of what that means needs to be made clear at a point where you’re not at that party and intoxicated and reacting to the circumstances in a way where your decision-making skills may not be quite as strong,” Rothman said.
After SRAC’s review, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, will again review the proposals before University President Mark Schlissel has the final say.
“Regardless of our advice, President Schlissel will look at the recommendations and it’s his prerogative to say yea or nay,” he said.