April 4, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Upholding the benefit of a doubt

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To the Editor:

Re: “Cornell Soft on Academic Integrity,” Opinion, March 31

As the Judicial Codes Counselor, it is my job to advise and represent students charged with violating the Cornell Code of Conduct and Academic Integrity Code.  For nearly two years I have been an advisor to students before Academic Integrity Hearing Boards of the various colleges at Cornell, and have rarely had a complaint about the conduct of the boards.

This column makes me nervous, however. With his sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations against students, the author seems to be demonstrating a bias against accused students. The Academic Integrity Code calls for members of the board to listen to all the evidence before them without bias.  While this certainly can be a difficult job and must be frustrating at times (especially after seeing the “Wikipedia cut-and-paste” cases), it is the board’s duty to remain unbiased.

This sort of public denouncement of any Cornell student accused of an Academic Integrity violation may seem to some to demonstrate a real bias against any student who comes before the board. As a University official charged with upholding our community’s standards, I call on the author, and every member of every University hearing board, to hear each and every case without bias, for that is every board member’s duty.  If a member of any board has become so disillusioned that they cannot come to a hearing without pre-convicting an accused student, that board member must, in all good conscience, consider resigning from his position.

I hereby challenge the author and every other board member to remain “fair-minded” in the execution of their duties as impartial triers of fact. Until this column appeared, I had never been given any reason to believe any of you do anything but that.  I sincerely hope you all accept this challenge and continue doing your difficult jobs as board members.

James L. Saeli, judicial codes counselor