October 3, 2007

'Misconduct' Policy May Change in New Campus Code

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In a forum made up of nearly as many panelists as audience members, the Codes and Judicial Committee discussed and defended their proposed changes to the Campus Code of Conduct.
The Committee, comprised of 11 undergrads, grad students, faculty and employees, oversees the Code of Conduct and has recommended six changes to the current document. The most contentious was a new provision allowing the University Judicial Administrator to take action against students who commit what it claims to be serious infractions off-campus.
Previously, Cornell was allowed to take actions under the same circumstances only if the University president stepped in to claim that it was “grave misconduct,” according to Prof. Kevin Clermont, law, a member of the CJC. Currently, the rule states that if a student commits a serious infraction that goes against the University’s educational mission, the student can be sent to the J.A.
“Concern grew that maybe we should be a little more concerned with what was off-campus misconduct,” said Clermont. “Specific examples include stalking in Collegetown or fraternity members fighting each other. The public authorities wouldn’t go after these, and the concern was that maybe some of these circumstances should be reached.”
Some of the forum attendees questioned how one decides what constitutes a serious infraction and what violates Cornell’s educational mission. The answer, in short, is that there is no definition.
“You have to look at the entire circumstance,” said Captain Kathy Zoner, assistant director of Cornell Police and a member of the committee.
She used two examples of infractions: public urination and drawing a knife on someone. While one inherently seems worse, Zoner said, the person with the knife might just be someone trying to cut a leash off an animal and hit someone by mistake, whereas the other violator might be urinating on a fuse box that electrocutes him and sends him to the hospital. In sum, the circumstance must dictate what constitutes a serious infraction.
“As an undergraduate, this was one of my main concerns,” said Rachel Dorfman-Tandlich ’08, a member of the CJC. “We want to make sure students don’t get [sent to the] J.A. for open container violations, but [this rule] is for more serious violations like stalking.”
Other proposed changes to the campus code include a time limit on how long one has to file a case with the J.A., a refined definition of who is accountable under the code to include suspended students, and a re-wording and simplification of a number of other rules.
While the forum, which took place in the Willard Straight Memorial Room, was sparsely populated, many of those who went seemed to either agree with the proposed changes or get their questions answered.
“The changes adequately addressed most of my concerns,” said Ashley Miller, law ’08. “My main concern was about how the word ‘serious’ is defined [in the off-campus jurisdiction proposal], but they convinced me that it should be defined on a case-by-case basis.”
Miller found the forum to be important enough that she asked students in the class that she teaches to attend as well.
“It would have been nice to have more feedback, but if people were concerned they would have been here,” said Kathleen Rourke, chair of the CJC and publications manager and news liaison for the Law School. “Maybe the fact that there aren’t as many major concerns says that we’ve listened to what the community has to say.”
Rourke said that last year the CJC held a similar forum in which many people attended had outspoken opinions.
These changes to the campus code of conduct are the result of the Krause report, a series of proposed code changes written by Barbara Krause ’86, a former judicial administrator, at the request of former President Hunter Rawlings.
The CJC went through a process of discussing and soliciting opinions from the community before coming to the proposed changes. An online forum is still available for members of the Cornell community who want to give their input on the changes. It will be available until Oct. 15. After that, the CJC will present its recommended changes to the University Assembly, which will then present them to President Skorton.