Special commission recommends for changes to Code of Student Conduct

By Chris Shores

A special commission on the University of Massachusetts Code of Student Conduct – formed in the wake of an administrative mishandling of a rape case last spring – has released its recommendations for changes in the Code.

The commission – at one point 21 strong and now currently made up of 16 members of the University community – was appointed by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Jean Kim last April. They are now asking the campus community to respond to the recommendations. Suggestions to the changes can be sent to the commission until tomorrow, Friday, April 22. The commission will then revise if necessary before submitting its final recommendations to the administration. The UMass Board of Trustees must approve the changes before they go into effect.

Brandon Tower, an undergraduate student member of the commission and former president of the Student Government Association, said that the biggest change involves a new right given to victims of violence. The Code previously included a process to appeal decisions, but this right was only given to the accused party, not the victim, said Tower.

The revised Code includes text that reads, “In cases involving violence, including bullying, physical assault, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, invasion of privacy, relationship violence, and stalking … a complainant has the right to appeal the decision of the hearing board on the same grounds and using the same procedure [as the appeal procedure already stated].”

“Now a victim of sexual assault has the right to appeal the decision to whoever handles the case,” said Tower. He pointed to another added clause that gives the chancellor the ability to intervene in “exceptional cases” to review the final decisions made by University officials.

“The Chancellor … at his/her discretion or upon request by any involved party … may refer the case back to any level for further review, may affirm the decision, or may overturn the decision,” reads the dommission’s recommendation. “The Chancellor or designee’s decision shall be final.”

Tower explained that appeals are a part of any judicial process and that the added appeals are in no way a violation of students’ rights. He also said that the commission worked hard to find a balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of the alleged victim.

Another area in which the commission called for major change was the alcohol policy.

“Although this was no part of our official charge, at the request of some student members, the Commission devoted considerable time to a discussion of the appropriate response to a first violation of the alcohol policy,” reads the commission’s report.

“At UMass, we give out more sanctions than diplomas and the vast majority are housing violations of [the] alcohol policy,” said Tower, who explained that the current sanctions for first offenses are enrollment in the BASICS program, a $100 fee and a year of housing probation.

“We thought that was harsh and we pushed for changes,” Tower said.

The commission recommended continuing to require BASICS enrollment, but reducing the fee to between $25 and $50 and removing completely the housing probation sanction.

“We recommend [this], the effect of which is to eliminate housing probation as part of the response and to reduce fee for BASICS (because of concern about the disparate effect of the current fee on students from low income families),” the commission’s report reads.

Tower also noted that another recommended change would involve removing minor offenses from a students’ record upon graduation. This change would allow students to apply for law or graduate school without fear that offenses like roughhousing in the hallway would carry over with the student’s permanent record, said Tower.

The records that are wiped clean upon graduation – or after a student has left the University for two years, if that comes first – include any violations that did not “result in a student’s expulsion, suspension, or removal from housing,” the commission’s recommendation reads.

Any violations that led to suspension or removal from housing “shall be expunged from the student’s record upon graduation or five years after the date of the incident that resulted in the suspension, whichever is later,” reads the text of the recommendation.

However, the recommendation continues, any violations that led to expulsion “shall be a permanent part of the student’s record.”

The last page of the commission’s report calls for further action by University administration in developing an appendix for forms of sexual misconduct, violence and forms of discriminatory intimidation and coercion. The commission asks for “definitions of the behaviors; procedures/options for reporting (both to University officials and to law enforcement); procedures for responding; and on-campus and off-campus resources for victims, charged parties, friends and other supports.”

Other recommendations to the Code include “changes in the composition, appointment process, and training of hearing boards” as well as “a new and greatly expanded section” on varying forms of assault, according to the first page of the recommendation report.

Suggestions and comments on the commission’s recommendations can be emailed to [email protected] by tomorrow, Friday, April 22. The full report by the commission can be read at http://www.umass.edu/stuaf/cscreport/.

Chris Shores can be reached at [email protected]