The University’s Student Relations Advisory Committee voted Friday not to recommend an amendment to the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, also known as the student code of conduct, that would enable a student to have legal representation during hearings that would lead to a student’s expulsion.
Currently, students are allowed to have an attorney present during code hearings, but attorneys are not allowed to represent a student or to cross-examine witnesses.
Legal counsel at hearings was one of 18 amendments to the code proposed by the Michigan Student Assembly in November.
SRAC — the board responsible for reviewing the code — makes recommendations on the amendments, which then go before University President Mary Sue Coleman, who makes a final decision on whether the proposal will be adopted.
Also at Friday’s meeting, SRAC members voted to recommend a proposal that would require Coleman to give a rationale for MSA-proposed amendments that she decides to reject. SRAC is scheduled to vote on the rest of MSA’s proposed changes to the code this Friday.
Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper, a member of SRAC, said the committee decided not to recommend the proposed amendment on legal representation because the code is meant to be an educational document, not a judicial one.
“We’re not trying to have another system in place of the legal system the University already has,” she said. “Instead of having students who violate the code thinking about their behavior and talking about their behavior, you have attorneys doing it, and there’s a place for that, but it isn’t in this process.”
SRAC chair and Physics Prof. Carl Akerlof said another reason the committee voted not to recommend the amendment was because some students might not be able to afford legal representation.
“There was a considerable concern that you don’t really want to get heavily involved in a situation (in which) the type of justice you get is the kind of justice you pay for,” he said.
Despite SRAC’s decision, Josh Gewolb, chair of MSA’s Code of Conduct Advisory Committee, said he believes Coleman will decide to pass the amendment because the University of Iowa, where she was president before coming to the University of Michigan, allows students to hire attorneys to represent them in all types of hearings.
“I’m sure President Coleman will agree that there’s no reason students at Michigan should have fewer rights than those at Iowa,” Gewolb said.
Priya Mahajan, an LSA junior and co-chair of MSA’s Student Rights Committee, said if MSA is given the chance to speak with Coleman it may be able to convince her to approve the proposal.
“I think if we are able to actually talk with (President Coleman) and to have a meeting or some type of inside channel with her that we should be able to convince her to approve it. But I’m not sure we’ll be able to (meet with Coleman),” Mahajan said.
The remaining proposals SRAC will be voting on include a variety of procedural and record-keeping amendments. For example, MSA is asking that the University’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution — the administrative body that enforces the code — release statistics about the number of rape and drug cases that are brought before it.
Gewolb said he is confident SRAC will vote to recommend the remaining proposals. But, Harper said she was unsure how the committee would vote.
“For the issues that are coming up next week there is no disagreement about the substance, but about whether it is appropriate to include them in the code,” Harper said.
Recently, SRAC, OSCR and MSA have disagreed on what types of amendments and proposals should be included in the student code of conduct. Members of OSCR and SRAC have argued that several of MSA’s proposals are of a procedural nature and should not be included in the code of conduct.
“(OSCR) is in favor of the amendments that are left,” said Keith Elkin, the director of OSCR. “Where we differ is that on four of them the question is whether or not they belong in the statement. They look more like implementing the policy as oppose to the policy itself.”
MSA can propose amendments to the University’s student code of conduct every two years. The code’s purpose is to outline the University’s expectations for students and also to define what will happen to a student who violates the code.