October 16, 2010

The Short Hand: JA: Judicial Administration

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At Mann Library on a Wednesday night, at approximately 8 PM, Justin* is approached by a stern-looking library employee. “Sir, can you please take your nuts off the table?” The employee was, of course, referring to the bag of almonds Justin had just purchased at Manndibles. Justin, head down, gathered his nuts and put them back into their Ziploc bag. Two days prior, over on the other side of campus, Liz* is studying in an armchair on Olin’s main floor and is asked to make sure that the open cup of coffee from which she is drinking has a lid when outside of the café space—open container policy violation. Liz, ashamed of her transgression, quickly finishes her coffee and discards the lidless cup. And on an even more personal occasion, one writer of this column had an incident a few semesters ago in which she lent her Cornell ID to a friend to use as a bus pass and was subsequently charged with identity theft, spending 25 long hours of community service over the next few months to repent for her deed.

If the above incidents, which took place in the cushy confines of our own campus, remind you at all of fraud, open container violations, or indecent exposure (we know it’s a stretch but bear with us), then you’re right—they should. Cornell University’s judicial process, at various levels, can be rigorous, and there are is a wide range of behavior that will get you sent to the JA, the URB (University Review Board), the UHB (University Hearing Board), the GJB (Greek Judicial Board), or the AIHB (Academic Integrity Hearing Board): drinking in your dorm room, not sufficiently registering your bike, cheating on a test, or holding an unregistered social event. Still, just last week, the Sun reported that on-campus crime rates have decreased by 50 percent in the last few years. Couple that statistic with trends emerging on a national level, which say that nationally, minor penalties such as fines or fees doled out by local law enforcement officials (think about that noise violation your house got during Orientation Week) are becoming increasingly more common.**

So, what does it all mean for us? Though the drastic drop in crime may indicate that students are adhering more closely to campus regulations and policies, the JA is a responsive, and not a preemptive, institution. By way of contrast, Haverford College’s outlook on crime and justice on campus is more geared towards prevention. The Honor Code is the cornerstone of Haverford’s culture. In fact, the school deems it such an important aspect of student life that all applicants are asked in their admissions essay to discuss their views on what the Code means to them and how they see it shaping campus life. Furthermore, new Haverford students are required to sign a pledge agreeing to obey the Code throughout their undergraduate years.

Though it would be nice to schedule the date of our own exams as the Honor Code permits Haverford students to do, the Cornell community does foster trust among its students. There are always laptops left unattended at Olin and bicycles without locks outside of MVR. And while unguarded property is not the hallmark of a trusting society, it does serve as a constant reminder that the members of the community, for the most part, trust each other.

However, a disclaimer should be made with this observation. Ultimately, no matter what you say about how smart it might be to leave your laptop unattended or to leave your dorm room unlocked, it seems that college is meant to be a microcosm, in many ways, of the real world. Lessons both in and outside the classroom teach us about what life is like beyond these college years. The JA and similar judicial bodies on campus serve to ensure that offenses are punished and rules are followed. So, though it may seem a bit much to charge a student with identity theft for lending out a buss pass, the root of the issue is a broken rule, and the judicial process seeks to regulate, maintain order, and promote social trust where it can before we enter the real world, where we most likely won’t have the luxury of getting off with just a slap on the wrist.

That being said, you definitely should wear closed toe shoes to the gym because the Cornell Fitness Center employees won’t let you on the treadmill in your Rainbows, and it would be wise to keep track of the time limit on that book on reserve at the library. Last, words of wisdom for all those with a bus pass: skip the pass back. Your friends can pay the $1.50 for that TCAT ride (and by the way, it’s free for students after 6 p.m.), and you will avoid explaining accusations of identity theft on your graduate school applications.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.**Special thanks to the Professor Mary Katzenstein and her GOVT 3141 in-class discussions.

Original Author: Hilary Oran