While hundreds of people turned out to show their support for the LGBT community during Queer Visibility Week”s Kiss In on Feb. 16, a less welcome group of people also came members of hateful pastor Fred Phelps” Westboro Baptist Church. Although Phelps was not present himself, his followers carried signs on the Diag with messages like “Fags doom nations,” or “AIDS cures fags” and “Matt Shephard Two years in hell.” The group tried, but failed, to crush the spirit of the rally.
However, the protesters did not go completely ignored. According to Department of Public Safety reports, the signs of some of the protesters were vandalized when someone ran by and spray-painted them with purple paint.
What followed the incident was another manifestation of the inherent unfairness of the Code of Student Conduct, recently renamed the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities last month by University President Lee Bollinger. LSA senior Ryan Hughes, who is running for Michigan Student Assembly president with the Friends Rebelling Against Tyranny party under the pseudonym Galaxor Nebulon, was led away by DPS officers and has been charged under the Code for assault and vandalism.
Although the police have not charged Hughes with any crime, administrators in the Fleming Administration Building have decided to take justice into their own hands.
Hughes” hearing will take place this Friday at 2 p.m. behind closed doors in the Office of Student Conflict Resolution on the sixth floor of the Fleming Administration Building.
Under the Federal Education Rights to Privacy Act, the University cannot release information or comment on Hughes” or any specific Code case. It is this silence that contributes to the veil of mystery that shrouds the Code process. Thanks to Hughes” openness with his own case, students will have a unique opportunity to see how the administration charges, prosecutes and punishes students. The Daily”s editorial page will follow him though the process every step of the way.
Examining OSCR”s conduct so far in Hughes” case, one word comes to mind questionable.
The way in which the University has decided to bring charges, in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct, has been unfair and deceitful. Hughes and his lawyer, Jodi Masley of the Detroit-based firm Scheff and Washington said it was difficult to discover the nature and basis of the University”s charges.
While Hughes and Masley have still been unable to obtain a police report detailing the charges, OSCR demanded to meet with Hughes. Although Hughes faced difficulty in seeing his own police report, what he didn”t find out until later was that OSCR already had possession of it.
Hughes received a letter during spring break from OSCR informing him that he would be charged under the Code for vandalism and assault according to reports, spray-paint had hit the face of one of the protesters. The letter informed him that he would need to have a meeting with OSCR immediately following spring break.
However, the meeting that OSCR called allowed Hughes no time to prepare a case. The letter also downplayed the importance of the meeting in such a way that, as Hughes believes, discouraged him from contacting an attorney. Under the Code, students charged are allowed to have an “adviser” but not an “advocate.” When Hughes enters arbitration, Masely will not be allowed to speak in defense of her client.
While the letter also informed Hughes that the University had received a complaint from DPS, this concept is misleading because DPS did not decide to press charges and is required to release all records of alleged crimes committed by students to the University. By calling the charge the result of a “complaint” filed by DPS, the University promotes the false notion that DPS is pushing for Hughes to be charged.
Under the Code, after charges are filed and the student is convicted, a process of mediation ensues. However, if neither members of the Westboro Baptist Church, the alleged victims, nor DPS has decided to press charges, the question is who will Hughes be mediating with?
The Code also dictates that either five students or an administrator will determine the outcome of the case. Under this process, there is no “jury pool” method of establishing an unbiased panel. This case shows the University”s complete discretion throughout the process as OSCR serves as both the judge and the jury in what is patronizingly and falsely called an educational process, rather than what it really is: A vehicle for punitive measures in what Masley aptly described as “a kangaroo court where you don”t have any rights.”
Jessica Curtin, a Michigan Student Assembly representative, noted that the harshest codes seem to appear at the universities where there is the strongest history of student activism and expressed worries that as activism continues to grow at the University, charges brought under the code will increasingly turn to ones brought against student activists.
Masley called into question the University”s motives for charging Hughes, who said the Westboro Baptist Church protesters were waging a “violent attack” on a “positive space for queer students to feel comfortable.”
Once again it has become clear that the implementation of the Student Code of Conduct is not designed to be an educational process. In the case of Hughes, the Code is also being used to charge a student who should not be charged at all if neither the “victims” nor DPS wish to press charges, the University has no place stepping in.
The Code represents a completely unfair process to prosecute a student using a system in which the basic rights of the accused are completely denied.
The Daily”s editorial page will follow Hughes” Code case from start to finish. Read the Daily next week to find out what happens to Hughes when he goes into the Office of Student Conflict Resolution on Friday. To voice your opinion on Hughes” situation, let the administration know. E-mail OSRC Director Keith Elkin at email@example.com and Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org.