November 1, 2006

C.U. May Revise Code of Conduct

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Cornell’s Campus Code of Conduct may be revised to create “a significantly different approach to campus discipline,” if the community decides to accept a proposal entitled “Report on a Review and Proposed Revision of the Cornell University Campus Code of Conduct.”

In November 2005, then Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III had Barbara Krause law ’86, then senior advisor to the president, review the Code of Conduct and propose possible changes to the system.

Krause finished the proposal in April, but a formal review of the document has not yet been undertaken by the administration.

“I think it’s certainly fair to say it will happen this academic year, whether we begin the conversation this fall [or not] … if not, we’ll spend the time this fall trying to figure out who are the right audiences that we should be communicating with and listening to and get that ready for next semester,” Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, told The Sun.

Murphy also said that she and James Mingle, University counsel, would be “working together to try to figure out how best to engage the community to review the recommendations.”

The Report asserts that the current Code was criticized for its unintelligibility, its high threshold for violence, its inefficiency in resolving cases and a lack of transparency in the outcome of cases. The last issue is generally constrained by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

The main goal in the Report for the new Code focuses on moving toward a more educational approach.
“Cornell’s campus conduct code should be based upon an aspirational statement that defines the type of educational community we wish to be,”
Krause wrote in the Report.

Other objectives were eliminating ideas and wording taken from criminal law and integrating the judicial/disciplinary system into other student affairs.
Mary Beth Grant, judicial administrator, said that the judicial/disciplinary system of universities is an issue “that people are dealing with all over the country.”

Specific changes detailed in the report include changing the J.A.’s office to the Office of Student Conduct, which would be under the control of the dean of students, altering the sufficiency of evidence needed from “clear and convincing” to a “preponderance” and eliminating the “right to remain silent” by requiring all campus members “to cooperate with [the] Office of Student Discipline.”

Sanctions and “progressive discipline” would still be included in the Code, but serious offenses would potentially result in immediate dismissal or suspension. The Office of Student Conduct would also be able to create an agreement with the accused for voluntary dismissal or suspension, an action that may currently only be taken by the Hearing and Review Boards.

The accused would still be allowed to have an advisor from the Cornell community or attorney if they are also being criminally charged, but the advisor/lawyer would no longer be allowed to actively participate.
The accused would still be able to appeal a decision, but the complainant would no longer be able to. Furthermore, the J.A. may currently not appeal a decision, but the Office of Student Conduct would be allowed to appeal on “certain stated grounds” that would be determined.

Currently, in the event a person is charged by the J.A. and in the criminal system, the University generally waits until the criminal trial is over to proceed. Under the proposed system, the University would conduct proceedings even if criminal or civil charges were pending.

Additionally, the Office of Student Conduct would have the authority to “consider off campus allegations if misconduct proposes a direct and substantial threat to the University’s educational mission or to the health, safety or property of the University of its members.” Currently, the J.A. may deal with “exceptionally grave misconduct” off-campus only if the president specially invokes that provision.

When asked about extending off-campus jurisdiction, Grant said that anti-hazing and rape prevention groups, as well as parents of victims, are often upset about the University’s lack of control over events in Collegetown and off-campus housing.

The “essential features” of the current Code were created in the early 1970s, following The Straight takeover in 1969. Part of the resolution agreement to the takeover was the creation of a new campus judicial system that involved the participation of minority students and was “acceptable to the entire community.”

The Code has been amended numerous times since then. The U.A. must approve all changes. Many of these amendments aimed to make the document less legalistic and more accessible to all readers, Grant said.
The Report dates the “last comprehensive revision” in 1987.

According to the report, members of the Cornell community have been requesting a review of the Code for “at least 10 years.”

In fall 2002, Cornell participated in an external review by J.A.s from other universities. They felt “what was needed [was] a comprehensive look” at the “somewhat antiquated” system, Grant said.

Later the Codes and Judicial Committee of the University Assembly asked the U.A. to look into the matter and the issue was later presented to former President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77.

Krause reported that she reviewed six different Cornell reports from 1967 through 2004 as well as a number of model codes and codes from other colleges and universities, which are available online. The proposed code looks to assimilate more with other Ivies and schools in upstate New York.

“With permission from Penn’s Director of Student Conduct, I have borrowed quite heavily in certain places from Penn’s system,” Krause wrote.

For research, she also discussed the issue with Murphy, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67, Dean of the Faculty Charles Walcott Ph.D. ’59, Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman, Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development Robert Harris as well as the University Council’s office, the J.A.’s office, the Ombudsman’s Office, officials at Gannett and the Cornell Police Department and members of the U.A.

Krause also made presentations about her work to the U.A., Student Assembly, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and Employee Assembly.
“In all cases these groups were supportive of this effort but also concerned and eager to learn how community input would be sought at the next stage,” Krause said.