Despite Tuesday’s changes to the Statement of Student Rights and
Responsibilities, the modifications are not substantial and
University students still lack the right to legal representation, a
former Michigan Student Assembly member who proposed amendments to
the statement said yesterday.

The revised statement includes gender identity in its
non-discrimination policy, clarifies that students can receive
advice from an attorney during arbitration hearings and states that
arbitration decisions must be based on “clear and convincing
evidence.”

University officials claim the revised statement will clarify
for students the procedures by which the University has operated
for years.

“Part of our job is informing the entire community of what we
do, and these changes really clarify that. … What this has done
now is made it explicitly clear that students can have an attorney
and what the standard of evidence is,” said Office of Student
Conflict Resolution Director Keith Elkin.

He added that at past meetings with OSCR officials, students
were informed that they had such rights even though they were not
spelled out in the statement. “That had been the case, but it
hadn’t been explicitly stated,” he said.

But Andrew Block, last school year’s MSA Student Rights
Commission chair, said the statement only permits attorneys to
advise students and not to speak or file evidence on their behalf.
At the same time, the material presented in hearings for students
facing criminal charges could be used later in a trial court, he
said.

“Information that comes out during a University hearing could
theoretically be subpoenaed by civil authorities,” said Block, who
assembled and wrote the rationale for seven statement amendments
proposed by the MSA earlier this year.

Dean of Students Ed Willis said arbitration hearings are a
closed process, and that he does not believe such information can
be released to a court unless a student opens up the trial process.
“Once heard in (the University hearings), that’s where it stays.
The student is the one who ought to take it from the campus,” he
said.

The process is also meant to be educational, and attorneys
representing students could detract from that value, he said.
“These are infractions that happen in (the University) community
and ought to be heard by that community. … It’s not a court of
law,” he said.

Despite the possible educational value of the hearings, Block
said that argument has served for too long as justification for
overlooking the rights of students.

And many of the rights that University students lack are
guaranteed in similar statements and codes of conduct at other
universities, Block said. “There are basic rights given by other
Big Ten universities and other elite universities that are
unprotected by the University of Michigan. In many ways, we lag
behind other universities,” he said.

Willis said he has not specifically studied the statements at
other Big Ten schools, but he said he is certain that students at
most schools across the country do not enjoy the right to legal
representation. “What happens here at Michigan is not atypical to
what happens at most campuses,” he said.

Block said he is happy with the changes protecting gender
identity and that the “clear and convincing evidence” standard is
the strictest possible, but he said three substantial amendments
were rejected, even though they were moderated from past years’
amendments to win University approval.

In addition to denying students full legal representation –
which the amendments requested only for criminal cases, Block said
– changes to allow University students to unilaterally open
hearings for certain complaints against departments without their
mutual consent were rejected, Block said.

And an amendment restricting the University from charging
students for off-campus incidents also failed to win approval. The
amendment claimed students would still be held responsible in such
cases by civil authorities, and the University’s rationale for
rejecting the change essentially echoed this argument, Block
said.

“I’m concerned that the changes that students feel are most
important to them and are most necessary to them are not being
incorporated into the statement,” he said. “Our most pressing
concerns have been marginalized. … Overall, there was very little
substantial change to the statement.”

As for future recommendations to the statement, Block said he
and MSA are uncertain of how to spur substantial changes,
especially given the lack of significant reforms in past years.
“Can we moderate these ideas enough so they can be accepted? I
don’t know,” he said.

But Block said he plans future meetings with OSCR and the
Student Relations Advisory Committee – a group of students, faculty
and staff which decides on amendments – to discuss ways to tweak
the amendment process. MSA can offer amendments to the statement
every two years, but Block said he will propose to allow statement
clarifications to be made more frequently.

Clarifications should also be listed separately, so the
University cannot claim it approved a certain percentage of
proposed amendments when the only real changes were grammatical, he
said.

The revised statement also clarifies that students can appeal a
hearing decision for ten days after the Dean of Students signs off
on it, and it also prevents students from sending e-mails under
another person’s identity without permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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