April 8, 2003

Behind Cornell's Justice System

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With 64 pages full of rules, recommendations, regulations and restrictions, the Campus Code of Conduct seemingly presents a daunting amount of opportunities for students to commit infractions. Yet, with Judicial Administrator (J.A.) Mary Beth Grant citing only one to two suspensions a semester for code violations, Cornellians have pretty clean acts. It takes more than getting caught holding a beer at a party or downloading J.Lo’s most recent single to get suspended from Cornell.

The 550 cases that pass through the office of the J.A. yearly regard only the Campus Code, which does not deal with either academic performance or integrity. The Campus Code is divided into two parts, “Maintenance of Public Order” and “Maintenance of the Educational Environment.” According to Judicial Codes Counselor (JCC) Emanuel Tsourounis II ’00, the educational environment stipulation has to do with drugs, theft and harassment whereas the public order section has more to do with “massive protests” and students’ rights during and after such protests. The public order section has rarely been applied to cases in the last decade.

In essence, upholding the Campus Code of Conduct means obeying the law.

Once an issue has come before the J.A.’s office, the first job is to investigate the case and determine if an infraction has occurred. Based on the severity of the breach, Grant explained that she will try to get a student to enter into an agreement, usually consisting of some amount of community service work. If the maximum of 80 hours is deemed insufficient for the student, the case goes to the University Hearing Board, which is made up of three students, one faculty member and one staff member.

The process of determining severity is a delicate one, as any decision made by the board could seriously impact the life of the student. When suspensions or expulsions are considered, Grant said that it is crucial to look into the “seriousness of the allegations and the history of the individual” before action is taken.

Grant said that when she deals with serious cases such as sexual assault, arson or the use of any type of weapon in a confrontation, she will recommend a suspension to the hearing board.

For instance, when John Boykin ’04 was involved in an altercation in Balch Hall in the spring of 2001 during which he hit another individual with a bottle, deemed a weapon according to Grant, he was placed on indefinite suspension.

Also, Grant said that she could only recall one expulsion from Cornell in recent years. The case involved the theft of illegal drugs.

As for taking patterns of conduct into account, Tsourounis gave an example of one student who “violated the code essentially 10 times in three months. … The student’s suspension gave [him or her] the opportunity to shape up,” he said.

There are three different types of suspensions that the University can issue to a student. The first is a suspension on the merits of the case. In this case, the decision to suspend is made by the University Hearing Board after a recommendation by the J.A. Suspensions can be for a specific time period not to exceed one year.

After this time has passed, the student can return to Cornell. The Hearing Board can also issue an indefinite suspension, which is intended to last for a period of more than a year. For a student to return following an indefinite suspension, he or she has to appeal to the board.

The second type of suspension is an interim suspension, which the J.A. can enforce immediately following an allegation if the accused person may be a threat to the community. This suspension lasts until the Hearing Board can review the case.

A suspension for non-compliance with the terms of an agreement is the final type of suspension issued by the Hearing Board. If the accused person believes that the Hearing Board did not follow correct procedure or if new evidence has been found, then the accused individual can appeal to the Review Board, which consists of one student, one faculty member, one staff member and one non-voting chairperson.

Grant stressed the importance of a fair process for the students involved in any allegation.

“There are a lot of checks and balances in our system,” she said. Grant continued, “By giving only the Hearing Board the authority to suspend, the code assures that there’s community input into suspensions, including input from peers of the accused, and that such important decisions are not left to a single administrator.”

Once a final decision has been made, the accused person is expected to comply with the decision for its duration.

“It’s not intended to be punishment, it’s intended to be education,” Grant said.

For the few students who get suspended each year, they have to make the best of the situation and try to learn from their mistakes. For the student who was suspended after the Balch incident, a freshman at the time of the incident, the past two years of his suspension have matured him, he said.

“It was an immature act. I didn’t realize that until I was able to look back at it,” Boykin said.

But what do students do when they first find out that they have been suspended?

“I got a job. But I was really down when I first got kicked out of Cornell. I had to realize that I could pick up and move on,” Boykin said.

Boykin also does not seem to harbor any resentment toward the administration for his suspension. He said, “One thing I’ve realized over two years is that [Gra

Archived article by Liz Goulding