February 6, 2007

Students Debate Code of Conduct

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The way students, faculty and staff deal with Campus Code of Conduct violation charges from the Judicial Administrator are subject to change.

The open forum last night in The Straight, however, indicated these changes will not happen without the input of the Cornell community. Members of the Codes and Judicial Committee of the University Assembly fielded questions and listened to perspectives on the major issues involving the proposed changes to the Code: the independence of the JA, the equal application of the code to all members of the Cornell community and the extension of the Code’s jurisdiction off campus.

University officials explained why Cornell has considered the changes.

“I was speaking to a judicial administrator at another college, and he said that he wanted to change his code,” said Mary Beth Grant ’88 law, Judicial Administrator. “So he sat down and wrote the changes he wanted made.”

Grant cited this example to show how Cornell has seized this opportunity to create campus dialogue.

“As a community, we can talk together about what’s good and what’s not good in our current code,” Grant said.

The discussion centered on the Krause Report, written by Barbara Krause, a former JA. The report was released on May 15 under the official title “Report On A Review and Proposed Revision Of The Cornell University Campus Code Of Conduct.” The report can be downloaded from the UA’s website.

According to the Krause Report, former Interim President Hunter Rawlings requested that Krause make a thorough review of the CCC.

During the forum, some students expressed concerns about the JA and the Office of the Dean of Students working so closely together.

Andy Cowan grad thought it seemed like an action meant to foster “neat internal consistence,” which, he said is “nice.” But, Cowan believes that before changes are made, the UA should consider the overall goals of such an action.

Philip Patten grad, agreed.

“An independent office, like what we have now, maintains the judicial tradition of juridical independence, which began at this country’s inception,” Patten said.
Patten spoke about what he believes to be the importance of expanding the jurisdiction of the CCC off-campus.

“If you’re accepted into a university like this one, people see you
differently — the acceptance comes with a large degree of patina,” Patten said. “I’d like to say I deserve my independence and that my actions don’t affect my community, but they do.”

According to Patten, students have a high responsibility in regards to the integrity of their actions, and he believes that the Duke Lacrosse team case shows how individual members of a community can alter the public image of an institution.

Jeff Purcell grad, a member of the CJC, responded to this by asking, “Why should what I do off-campus on my spring break affect Cornell?”

Scott Miller law ’95 said he believes he has an insider perspective on the Code because he has represented hundreds of students and faculty in JA cases. Miller presented a scenario in which the absence of legal counsel would threaten the idea of a fair trial.

“Say there’s a sophomore and she’s accused of sexual assault by her roommate, but she‘s actually innocent. Under the current code, if she’s found culpable, she’s expelled. If this sophomore has to present her own case, and has to cross-examine the complainant, she can look as if she’s attacking the complainant,” Miller said.

He went on to explain that, due to some of the Report’s suggestions in regards to shifting to a standard of a preponderance of evidence from one of clear and convincing evidence, the accused has a greater chance of actually being charged.

“The implicit message the Report sends out is that the complainant’s version of events is the true one,” Miller said. “Is that fair and equal?”

Miller also said that the absence of legal counsel would put the parties’ passions on display, thereby getting in the way of a fair process of law.

“There’s one constituency we’ve yet to hear from, and that’s very
important,” Miller said. “And that’s the complainants and the accused.”

Danny Pearlstein grad who had a case with the JA due to his role in the Redbud Woods controversy, however, spoke later in the forum. “My case worked out because of how long it took,” Pearlstein said.

Students were not the only group who spoke out against the Code.

Robin Messing, a Cornell staff member expressed his concern over the Report’s recommendation to eliminate a student’s right to remain silent.

“So a student coughs up a confession, then the District Attorney could subpoena what he said and use it against him in a criminal court of law,” Messing said.

“These changes are a disempowering move for the students,” said Prof. Matthew Belmonte, human development. “If we have abysmal expectations for students, that’s what they’ll grow into, that’s what they’ll fulfill.”

Prof. Martin Hatch, music, urged nearly every speaker to submit comments either in a paper form or on the UA’s blog.

“The irony here is that Day Hall is in interested in eliminating the right to remain silent, but their silence on this issue is deafening,” said Prof. Randy Wayne, plant biology.

A grad student speaker commented positively on the Krause report. To her, it reads easier than the current CCC and has a more constructive, less “thou shall not” tone to it.

“The Codes and Judicial Committee is a committee of the University Assembly, and we make recommendation to the UA,” said Kathleen Rourke, co-chair of the CJC. “The UA then can act on these recommendations, and the resolutions they make go on to the administration.”

Rourke explained that some parts of the CCC involve the approval of the Board of Trustees, while some parts fall only under the jurisdiction of the administration. The CJC is comprised of students, faculty and staff.