Students at the University are recognized across the country for their commitment to protecting civil liberties. On the level of national politics, University students are the first to organize against what they view as an infringement on their rights or the rights of others. Now is the time for students to stand up and be heard in the debate over their rights as members of the University community by supporting the Michigan Student Assembly’s proposed amendments to the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, formerly known as “The Code.” By simply logging on to www.studentpolicies.dsa.umich.edu/review/, students can lend their voices to the cause.

Despite a general lack of awareness of the existence of the Code, this document directly affects every single student at the University. The Code governs all behavior that is primarily non-academic, stating which types of behavior the University considers a violation of its policies and laying out the disciplinary process required to address such violations.

While the Code can be used to promote a safer, more responsible campus community, certain portions of the policy permit an unnecessary extension of the University’s power or fail to secure rights that should be basic to the disciplinary process. While the stated purpose of the Statement is to educate the student body, the reality is that students facing the disciplinary procedure are subject to punishments ranging from simple probation or community service to suspension or expulsion.

The Student Rights Commission of MSA has been working hard over the past months to bring desperately-needed changes to the Code. Once every two years, MSA has the opportunity to propose amendments, which are then reviewed by a faculty committee before being forwarded to the President. While several of our seven suggested changes have been received positively by the faculty and the administration, there is some disagreement over certain amendments that would afford much-needed protection to students’ civil liberties.

With respect to the disciplinary process, two parts of the Code stand out as particularly disturbing: The denial of the accused’s right to legal representation during an arbitration hearing and the inability of accused students to open their hearing to the public unless consent of the complainant is also given. Although many other Big Ten universities (including President Mary Sue Coleman’s old home) make provisions for legal representation at the student’s expense and allow the accused student to open a hearing unilaterally, the University lags behind in affording similar protections to its students. Our amendment would correct this imbalance by making these options available to students under certain circumstances. It is unfortunate that an institution famed for its progressivism has thus far been unable to adopt procedures that ensure that students’ basic rights are protected.

The potential also exists for the University to overreach the limits of its power. Currently, behavior that occurs in Ann Arbor but off University property may be considered a violation of the Code. Through our amendments, the Student Rights Commission is attempting to restrict the University’s authority within its natural boundaries: University-owned property, public property immediately adjacent to that property and University events and programs. The University should not have the power to punish students for behavior that occurs away from the campus area unless that behavior provides a serious threat to the University community, a condition that is explicitly contained in the amendment.

Student input is critical to the amendment process. The faculty are reviewing the proposals at this very moment and will soon be deciding whether to recommend that the amendments be accepted or rejected by Coleman.

Go right now to www.studentpolicies.dsa.umich.edu/review/ and let the faculty know how you feel about MSA’s proposals by scrolling down to the feedback form at the bottom of the page. A complete version of the proposals and a quick-review summary are available to facilitate the feedback process.

You owe it to yourself as a student at the University to be a part of this monumental process. Let your voices be heard now, before it’s too late.

Block is the chair of the Students’ Rights Commission of MSA.

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