February 21, 2008

Skorton and U.A. Attempt To Reconcile Differences

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In the aftermath of the emergency University Assembly meeting held on Feb. 13, President Skorton and the U.A. have made some progress in trying to reach a compromise over the recent revisions to the Campus Code of Conduct.
On Feb. 18, Skorton met with members of the U.A. and the Codes and Judicial Committee to go over Skorton’s recommendations for the revised Code.
“The easy differences were hammered out and taken care of to everyone’s satisfaction,” said Prof. Randy Wayne, biology, a member of the U.A. “The difficult things weren’t.”
Andy Cowan law, vice chair of the CJC, explained that there were several areas of disagreement about “the right of the counsel [for the accused], the standard of proof [to determine a case] and whether the hearing board or the President has the final say in a case.”[img_assist|nid=28036|title=Chartering change|desc=Kevin Clermont, member of the University Assembly Codes and Judicial Committee, discusses the revised Campus Code of Conduct at an open forum last week.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We agree on more issues than we disagree on … but the ones we disagree on are very important,” Cowan said.
“To his credit, [Skorton] got the message clearly from the U.A. meeting that there were serious concerns,” said Jonathan Sclarsic law, ex-offico Judicial Codes Counselor, “but there’s still some uncertainty as to how this process will end.”
For the most part, the U.A. and the CJC seem to regard Skorton’s response to their complaints with a mixture of cautious optimism and skepticism. Skorton has clearly voiced his responses both at the meeting and in his opinion column in Tuesday’s edition of The Sun. Some took issue with several comments from Skorton, such as his statement regarding “old fears about process.”
“My main concern is about process,” said Prof. David Rosen, music, Emeritus, and a member of the U.A. said.
“His saying that we should not worry about the process reminds me in a way of the present [President George Bush’s] administration saying that, ‘we are charged with protecting the American people from terrorist acts and we have to put the Constitution aside,” Rosen said. “I think Skorton should abide by the process.”
Wayne took issue with Skorton’s concern for the University’s interests.
“It seems to me that the University’s image is a horrible thing to throw into a case of, say, rape. We have no idea what he means by the University’s interest, and I don’t see any rational explanations for it,” Wayne said. “I think two sides [the victim’s and the accused’s] are enough in a judicial process.
“He’s seems sort of concerned with matching up how we appear with our peer schools,” Cowan noted.
“I think it is important to look at our peer schools for inspirations,” Cowan said, “but I also don’t think its appropriate to say ‘oh we give more protection than our peers schools, maybe we should give less.’ I think instead we should consider the possibility that maybe we do it best.”
Cowan also disagreed with Skorton’s negative evaluation of the Code.
“The Code is always unfinished, ” he said. “I think that’s been a sort of popular misconception throughout this whole process.”
Cowan noted that the CJC had been in existence for over 25 years and was consistently making adjustments to the code.
“It is a perpetual work in progress, and there’s always something to improve on,” he said.
Wayne commented upon the shortcomings of the Code, and what needs to be amended.
“It [the Code] is incomplete, but it is a wonderful foundation, a set of compromises for the community. There are things in it that I am not happy with. But I would say that all in all it’s fair and balanced,” Wayne said. “What he [Skorton] wants to make it complete is an escape clause that says ‘Day Hall’s in charge,’ and I don’t like that.”
Cowan and Wayne also expressed frustration with Skorton’s urges to “resist the expedient.”
“It’s fine to have this dialogue with the President,” Cowan said, “but I wished we’d heard some of his comments earlier. We’d been working on this Code for months and … his letter was the first time that we’d heard any of his concerns.”
Wayne took issue with Skorton’s apparent desire to draw about the process.
“He says we should take the slow way rather than the expedient way, and I resent that,” Wayne said. “ We took the slow way for a year. He didn’t come to the public forums to speak and that was the slow, deliberative stage, getting community input.”
Despite their concerns, both the U.A. and the CJC still seem willing to give Skorton and his claim of commitment to the concept of shared governance the benefit of a doubt.
“We were alarmed for a few days,” Cowan said, “I think now we have reassurances that this is still a democratic process.”
“I’d like to give Skorton the benefit of a doubt,” Rosen said. “He definitely got off on a bad foot … probably with advice from the wrong people,” referring to members of Skorton’s administration that were carried over from former President Hunter R. Rawlings
“When this whole process started, I was hopeful for Skorton,” Wayne said, “I had little respect for Rawlings, he was a tyrant … always following money.”
“I am reserving judgment on Skorton,” Wayne added, “but I am worried.”