December 1, 2006

U.A. Debates Code of Conduct Changes

Print More

When Cornellians gathered at the University Assembly meeting Wednesday night to discuss proposed changes to the Campus Code of Conduct, all but one of the individuals who stepped forward to speak expressed their displeasure with the proposal.

At the start of that meeting, the Codes and Judicial Committee, which holds the power to amend the Campus Code of Conduct, announced their main goals for reviewing Barbara Krause’s Report on a Review and Proposed Revision of the Cornell University Campus Code of Conduct.

The committee’s goals, decided upon at their most recent meeting on Nov. 14, suggest that the Code should provide “clear parameters for behavior to ensure the institution’s purpose,” use “simple and clear language, without abridging rights,” afford “appropriate time tables” that respect judicial procedures, maintain “an equitable, fair and independent judicial process” and “that the independence and support of the JA’s office and its communication with the community is sufficient.”

The U.A. passed a motion offered by President David Skorton via e-mail that the CJC would complete a report by March 7 examining the main issue in the Krause Report — whether the judicial administrator’s office should be dismantled in favor of an Office of Student Conduct that would report to the Office of the Dean of Students.

Skorton’s previously announced working group will be added to the CJC as non-voting members during the discussion period.
Some of the meetings’ attendees were apprehensive about the power the working group would have over the Code of Conduct.

“I am concerned about the constitution of the working group and the authority of that group,” said Prof. Abby Cohen, linguistics. “I think it sorely underrepresents both faculty and students inputs.”

Sun columnist Jeff Purcell grad suggested that people who have undergone judicial proceedings under the current Code could also offer advice on the proposed changes.

“Day Hall’s third floor should not set the rules for the community,” said Purcell.

Skorton, who arrived to the meeting later on, explained after the meeting that the working group was meant to represent the administration and not any groups on campus. He said he did not want to appoint people to make decisions about the Code but allow elected representatives to judge the proposal.

“The working group is not in anyway to step in front of the input from the grassroots of the University,” Skorton said.

Several people asked the U.A. to throw out the Krause Report because they wholly disagreed with its contents as well as how it was created, but members of the U.A. said they would examine the proposal.

“We know that we have the power and that its been — basically we been worked around,” said Prof. Ellis Loew, biomedical sciences. “This is not the first time this has happened. It’s happened with the Campus Store; it’s happened with Gannett; it’s happened with Religious Works; it happened with transportation. We know that. The problem is that the University Assembly, if asked by any member of the community to look at any anything of relevance to the entire community, has a responsibility to act on it.”

Kwame Thomison ’07, president of the Student Assembly, suggested that the U.A. needed more time than Wednesday’s meeting to examine the Krause Report and should continue to review the proposal.

Other people have expressed concerns with more specific issues about proposed changes to the Code, including that the accused would have no right to silence and no attorney, that lowering the standard for evidence against the accused would punish more innocent people and that the University should not extend their off-campus jurisdiction to less serious crimes than they have power over now.

Andy Cowan law ’08 said that members of the Law Student’s Association were concerned that changes in the Code would expand the University’s power and yet remove many of the accused’s current protections.
“[Tuesday,] the Cornell Law Student’s Association Board voted unanimously to express its deep concern with proposed changes in the Code,” Cowan said, adding that he did not formally represent the group.

In April, the Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board joined with Challenging Racism and Systems of Hierarchy, a group formed after a black student from Union College was stabbed by Nathan Poffenbarger ’08, a white Cornell student, on West Campus last February, and wrote a letter to then interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III to ask for more support for victims of sexual assault — including revisions to the Campus Code of Conduct. They made many of the same arguments in a guest column in The Sun.

Recommendations focused on changes to the University’s sexual assault policy, including that the Code should extend off-campus, students should not be allowed on the Hearing Board, the Hearing Board and the Judicial Administrator should receive sexual assault education and that neither the accused nor the victim should be allowed lawyers.

Prof. Dan Brown, animal science, has also offered some suggestions for changes to the Code and the judicial system that did not appear in the Krause Report.

He said that the Code of Conduct should be expanded to include all members of the Cornell community and that everyone should be held to the same ethical standard.

“It should embrace within its jurisdiction students, employees, faculty, trustees and administrators as being subject to the Campus Code of Conduct … this is very common in other educational organizations.”

Additionally, Brown said that not all members of the community feel equally protected on campus.

“Both the J.A. and the police need to be absolutely independent,” he said.
Many people have been trying to inform the community about possible changes to the Code as well as promote discussion on campus. Max Henderson ’08 took an unusual approach to getting students involved by starting a Facebook group called “DOWN with the Changes to the University Code of Conduct!” The group, which was started shortly after Henderson received Skorton’s e-mail last Monday, has grown to 666 members at time of publication.

“I wanted to kind of inform people as to what the contents actually meant to them … to try to get people involved, to try to get people to read the report,” Henderson told The Sun. “I didn’t realize how useful the Facebook could be for [serious issues].”

“As a student, I don’t think I could count on one hand the number of people who had read the code before they had been accused of violating it,” Henderson said at the meeting.

Julianna Marwell ’08, the undergraduate chair of the U.A., said she was pleased that people came to the meeting and hoped to receive more input from the community in the future.

Skorton also said after the meeting that he was open to discussion.
“I hope that there was nothing in the memo I sent to campus that made people think they couldn’t come directly to me,” Skorton said.
Krause, a former senior advisor to the president, finished the report in April. Her report, Rawlings’s memo introducing the report, drafts of a proposed Student Disciplinary System and University Code of Conduct as well as minutes of the U.A. meeting, information about future U.A. and CJC meetings and a mechanism for giving feedback to the U.A. are available online at