April 21, 2011

Panel Discusses Proposed Bill of Rights

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A panel of 10 faculty members  tackled topics ranging from the value of student protest to academic freedom in the classroom Thursday afternoon. The panel was organized by the Student Assembly in connection with Resolution 79, which would create a student bill of rights.

If implemented, the student bill of rights will be an “easy-to-use policy document that will help educate all students as to their rights as members of the Cornell community,” bill sponsor Andrew Brokman ’11, student assembly representative at-large, told The Sun earlier this month.

Prof. Kevin Clermont, law, emphasized during the panel that people can only mandate rights from the government.

“What you’re doing is creating an agreement … for rights that don’t really exist,” Clermont said. “A bill of rights will fill that gap of what students assume they have, but really don’t.”

Prof. Lee Adler, industrial and labor relations, contrasted the rights that Cornell students have within a private university to those in a public university, where there is “the availability of certain fractured constitutional rights.”

“You ain’t got no rights in a private university except what the lords up above — the trustees — have given you,” Adler said.

Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, industrial and labor relations, stressed the importance of protest and free speech in the student bill of rights, especially in the context of the recent folding of the Africana Center into the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I keep emphasizing this issue of information because one of the things that bothers me a lot about the University … is that things seem to be more and more that the University and administration are treating everything like a state secret, instead of the default position being that everything should be open unless there is a reason in keeping it private,” she said.

Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 expanded on the administration’s perspective on the bill, specifically addressing student privacy, a prominent issue brought up in the articles of the proposed bill.

“In my experience, the University does not abridge rights, but follows as much as possible allowed to us by the Constitution,” Hubbell said.

He said the University aims to treat students as “young adults.”

Scott Grantz, associate judicial administrator, said he believes the Campus Code of Conduct could be amended to include the proposed bill of rights.

“[The Campus Code of Conduct] touches on a lot of rights, and you will hopefully be pleasantly surprised,” Grantz said.

The code protects various aspects of student rights as well as the processes available to them, Grantz said.

Hubbell said that a statement of student rights and a statement of student responsibilities are paramount to the bill.

“If you can come up with something, it can serve us mightily as we go forward year after year,” Hubbell said.

After the event, Brokman looked ahead to the next step in the creation of the bill of rights.

“There were a lot of interesting comments from the professors and the administrators,” Brokman said. “I feel like with those comments there is still a few things to flesh out and contemplate. Will we go through with trying to ultimately make this part of the Campus Code of Conduct? Will [we] try to extend this to a community bill of rights? Will we try to specify or clarify the language in regards to privacy? … It’s going to take some thoughtful debate.”

Original Author: Tajwar Mazhar