When University administrators chose last year to change the abrasive name of the Code of Student Conduct to the more innocuous-sounding Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, their motive was clear: to draw attention away from this notoriously-overbearing document in hopes that students would forget which of their rights it violated. The statement is up for revision this year, and tomorrow, students will have an opportunity to pay much-needed attention to the injustices contained within it. From 2 to 4 p.m. tomorrow in the Kuenzel Room of the Michigan Union, the Student Relations Advisory Committee of the Michigan Student Assembly will be hearing comments on and suggestions to the proposed amendments to the Statement. It is important that students attend this hearing and voice their concerns to the SRAC.
The Students’ Rights Commission of MSA has proposed seven amendments to the Statement. While these amendments do not address all of the problems with the Statement, they do address some of the most severe infringements on students’ rights. They clarify a wide range of issues, such as gender identity and the timeline for appeals of a decision made by the dean of students regarding a violation of the statement. One amendment would restrict the University’s jurisdiction to punish behavior that takes place off of University property. Another would allow students to have legal representation at hearings in which criminal charges have been filed or are likely to be filed. In addition, there are amendments allowing the accused party to open hearings to the public and to ensure that there is always the requisite number of students on the decision panel.
Former University President Lee Bollinger misled students by informing them that the vast majority of their concerns had been addressed when the Code was last revised two years ago, when in actuality, most of the changes were simply grammatical. This year marks the first opportunity that students have had to propose amendments.
If the proposed amendments do find their way through the complex maze leading to approval, President Mary Sue Coleman will ultimately decide on the final version. Coleman should support and approve these amendments; however, her record as president of the University of Iowa is not encouraging. During her tenure there, the University of Iowa curbed students’ rights with a restrictive alcohol policy and a crackdown on student protest. President Coleman would go a long way toward achieving her stated goal of making the University a more humane place by exerting leadership on this issue.
Only a few years ago, students unified to rally against the Code. Since then, only a small group of students, lead by the Students’ Rights Commission, have fought to preserve the rights of University students by challenging the statement. Students should attend tomorrow’s hearing en masse to bring this issue to the light and to ensure that basic student rights are protected now and in the years to come.