November 28, 2006

Skorton Initiates Code Discussion

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In an open e-mail to the Cornell community last week, President David J. Skorton made his first public contribution to the debate about possible changes to the Campus Code of Conduct and invited “all members of the community and other interested parties” to take part in the discussion.

According to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant law ’88, these are issues “that people are dealing with all over the country.”

The University Assembly, particularly the Codes and Judicial Committee (CJC), has the responsibility of fostering discussion and collecting input.
Skorton announced the creation of “a working group” that would collaborate with him and the U.A. about possible code revisions in his e-mail.

“This is a process that is in its earliest possible stages,” Prof. Charles Walcott, dean of the faculty, said, “[The Code] needs lengthy discussion and debate.”

Walcott, who is a professor of neurobiology and behavior, was involved in the original assignment charging Barbara Krause law ’86, former senior advisor to the president, to review the Code of Conduct and propose possible changes to the system last November.

Krause was chosen to write the proposal because she had time that the CJC did not to devote to the project, according to Walcott. Additionally, Krause formerly held the position of judicial administrator.

“I think it really came from Jeffrey Lehman’s view that the Code was a list of things thou shalt not do,” Walcott said.

Lehman thought it would be nicer for the Code to tell community members what they should aspire to, Walcott continued.

These ideas coincide with the main goal for the new Code in Krause’s report — 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.

Furthermore, the Report asserts, members of the Cornell community have been requesting a review of the Code for “at least 10 years.”

Not everyone at Cornell agrees that there is a need to change the current Code, however.

“The Krause report offers no evidence at all that the system is broke, so why fix it? The chief urgency seems to be the need for student life professionals to get further into the picture, but they seem to have an awful lot to do already. Let’s hold onto an independent J.A. and leave ‘aspirational standards’ in the realm of academic life, where they belong,” Prof. Stuart Davis, English, told The Sun.

Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, the Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters, criticized many aspects of the proposed Code and made his own suggestions for a revised system in a guest column in The Sun on Nov. 17. He argued the current Code was molded by constitutional rights, which would be replaced with “a poorly-theorized model of community rights” in the proposed Code. Furthermore, Cheyfitz argues, the proposed Code intermingles educational and judicial processes to the detriment of both.

Cheyfitz suggests that Cornell should strengthen the J.A.’s office and create a faculty committee, which would include students and staff, to act as a hearing board.

Skorton said yesterday that preliminary feedback to the overall review has mostly been positive but there have been not consistent responses on any specific issue.

Walcott, Skorton and Murphy have all stressed that much debate needs to take place before any decisions will be made.

Murphy will chair the working group that Skorton announced in his e-mail. Other members of that group will include Walcott, Dean of the Graduate School Alison Power, Vice President for University Communications Tommy Bruce, Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman, Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant and University Council and Secretary of the Corporation Jim Mingle, according to Skorton’s e-mail.

In his e-mail, Skorton stated that proposed changes would be submitted for final consideration to the Board of Trustees in May; approved changes would take effect for the next academic year.

“Since the Campus Code of Conduct and related disciplinary processes affect all members of the Ithaca campus, it is important that there be opportunities for members of the University community to comment on the proposed changes,” former President Hunter R. Rawlings III said in a memo introducing Krause’s report.

This memo, Krause’s report, proposed drafts of the Student Disciplinary System and the Code of Conduct and a chart of major issues in the current and proposed Codes are available on the Office of the Assembly’s website at