April 24, 2008

U.A. Approves Conduct Code After Revision

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Correction Appended
The new Code of Judicial Conduct may finally be on its way to becoming a permanent part of Cornell policy. In a meeting yesterday, the University Assembly re-approved the CJC by a vote of 14-2, meaning that its next stop will be President David Skorton’s desk.
The U.A. approved the code last fall, but Skorton sent it back to the drawing board with two major issues. His rejection of the Code at the time raised controversy between Skorton, the CJC committee and U.A. However, in its current state — which Andrew Cowan law, vice-chair of the CJC Committee, touts as “something that nobody really likes but that everyone can swallow” — many believe it will eventually be adopted.
The first issue that was appended relates to the right of an accused Cornellian to an attorney. If suspension or expulsion is a possibility, the right to an attorney is intact. However, if there is no possibility of the student having to take a leave of absence, an attorney may be present for students’ cases, but is unable to speak. The U.A. discussed creating an amendment to modify these changes for an hour and a half, but the motion eventually failed.
The second alteration — at the insistence of Skorton — allows for appeals by either the J.A. or the accused student in cases involving violence or threats. If either party believes the decision is too lenient or too harsh, he or she has the option of bringing the case to the president. The U.A. had little problem with this change.
Last fall, the CJC committee had a sparsely attended open forum to discuss the proposed changes to the code with the community. Few people had disagreements over the changes.
However, Skorton collided with the U.A. over the CJC in February when he submitted his revisions to the code. Some believed that his suggestions concentrated much of the judicial power in his hands, and that he had usurped power in forming the new CJC from those who had actually spent the time to work on the issue.
“We had hoped for an inclusive attitude from David Skorton,” Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government told The Sun at an emergency U.A. meeting in February. “The disagreements are so vague and scary that you think that it’s just an asserting of executive power and to hell with us.”
In the two months since Skorton told the CJC Committee to rework its policies, the University president’s office has been working with the team to compromise on issues. Cowan believes that because the two groups have worked so closely, Skorton will approve the new code more without argument this time.
The final step in the code’s implementation will be approval by the Board of Trustees in their general meeting. Kate Duch ’09, student trustee and ex-officio member of the U.A., believes the Board of Trustees will approve the code without dispute.
“The process of revising the code of Conduct has been a good example of the way that shared governance should work within a university,” she said. “While the process would have been smoother if the Cornell administration had participated in the discussions earlier, the Code of Conduct was reviewed and approved by all of the various stakeholders: students, faculty, staff and administrators.”