A University committee is evaluating several major proposed changes to the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities — known as “the code” for student behavior — which would include special penalties for hate crimes and allow students facing expulsion to be represented by an attorney. But a member of the committee said the University has already made up its mind to refuse to allow legal representation.
The Student Relations Advisory Committee, the board responsible for reviewing the code, is currently evaluating 19 amendment proposals. The Michigan Student Assembly proposed 18 of the changes, including the amendment to allow students facing expulsion to have attorney representation.
“Right now a student is allowed to be accompanied by an attorney, but the attorney can’t represent them,” said Joshua Gewolb, chair of MSA’s code of conduct advisory board and a Law School student. “In cases involving expulsion — which is a life-altering punishment — we feel it’s appropriate that students be represented by an attorney.”
Keith Elkin, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, the body that enforces the code, said he is opposed to such an amendment because it would completely change OSCR’s process. “It changes it from an educational process to one that is like a criminal court process. The other major problem is there’s going to be a fundamental inequity in that, on the one hand, students with the most money are going to be able to hire better lawyers.”
Elkin added that this proposal is also unbalanced because it only allows the accused, and not the accuser, to have an attorney present. “And then the other thing is, once you introduce lawyers on both sides, then the University would have to have a lawyer there,” he added. “It just totally changes the nature of our process.”
OSCR will present its recommendations for the code changes to the evaluation committee at a public meeting today at 1 p.m. in the Bates Room of the Michigan Union. The committee is then expected to spend a month gathering feedback and make recommendations to President Mary Sue Coleman in January.
But Gold said the committee’s recommendations won’t change the University’s position.
“My own feeling is unless the chair of OSCR is open for further suggestions … then there’s nothing (the committee) can do,” Martin Gold, a member of the code evaluation committee and an emeritus professor in psychology said. “(Elkin is) the head of the office. He’s going to have to live with all this, and because he has to live with this, I think it’s right for the Vice President for Student Affairs and the president of the University to weigh (Elkin’s) decisions very heavily. And since he’s made his decisions, I don’t know what there is to discuss.”
Another change proposed by MSA would allow OSCR to formally consider whether a student who violated the code was motivated by a bias based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation — in other words, whether they committed a hate crime.
“We feel that it’s important for the statement to reflect the fact that a student is more culpable if their misconduct was motivated by bias than if it was not, and that enhanced sanctions should be considered,” Gewolb said. Elkin said he agrees with this proposal.
MSA, the University’s executive officers and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs are given the opportunity to submit proposals to the code during its review process, which takes place every two years. After the proposals are submitted, SRAC decides which amendments to submit to Coleman, who will then approve changes for implementation in July.
But in the past the head of OSCR has had the final say on code changes, said Gold.
“The experience from two years ago was that when the head of OSCR has made up his mind, that’s the way it is,” Gold said.
Elkin said he supports all of MSA’s other proposals except seven that would restrict OSCR’s procedural practices concerning the ways in which the organization administers the code. These amendments would cover a wide range of procedures from arbitration recordings to hearing proceedings.
Gewolb said OSCR is the delegating authority when it comes to administering code procedure, yet its practices are not explicit in the code.
Gewolb said knowing how rights are administered is sometimes “simply more essential to freedom” than knowing the rights themselves. “It is essential that procedures be subject to the same amendment and review process as other rights,” he added.
Elkin said Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper’s proposal — which would allow for MSA representatives to comprise a majority of the OSCR Advisory Board and allow that board to review OSCR’s procedures each year — would better address these procedural issues.
“We’re not rejecting the substance of any of the proposals that deal with the process,” Elkin said. “All we’re saying is that Vice President Harper’s way of addressing it is a better way because it allows for annual review.”
Students can give feedback on proposed amendments on the OSCR website, www.umich.edu/~oscr. OSCR will also hold an open forum for discussion regarding potential code changes on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Union in Anderson Rooms C and D.