March 31, 2013

Cornell Student Organizations’ Misconduct Will Be Public, Resolution Says

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Misconduct by any University-registered organizations — such as a cappella groups, club sports teams and other student groups — will be disclosed to the public if President David Skorton approves a University Assembly resolution.

The resolution was unanimously passed by the U.A. on March 26. If enacted by the University, Resolution 5 will amend the Campus Code of Conduct to no longer protect the confidentiality of University-registered organizations.

The resolution states that an organization’s records “may be shared as deemed necessary to educate the community or to provide information to the community about the organization’s conduct.”

Currently, only Greek organizations must disclose misconduct to the public.

Even with the amendment, the campus code will still protect the confidentiality of individual members of organizations in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, according to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88.

According to Gregory Mezey ’09, chair of the U.A. codes and judicial committee, club misconduct will be handled in a similar manner as the way misconduct  is handled.

“The reason for the resolution is to be fair to the whole community, and to have transparency and equal treatment for all groups,” Mezey said.

Student Assembly Representative and member of the U.A. Peter Scelfo ’15 said the resolution shows that Cornell is being consistent with Skorton’s platform that “pledging as we know it” has to stop.

“I think it’s very important that we remain consistent and that organizations aren’t given special treatment,” Scelfo said.

Grant said the types of misconduct disclosed would primarily deal with issues like harassment, incidents of hazing, providing alcohol to minors, property damage and the misappropriation of funds. According to Grant, of the approximately 900 cases the J.A. sees regarding misconduct each year, approximately three to five of them deal with student organizations.

The resolution “provides transparency for people who are looking into organizations to see whether or not they want to belong,” Grant said.

However, only organizations found responsible for specific misconduct issues, as opposed to all allegations under review, will be reported, Grant said.

The resolution also calls for the creation of a website for University organizations’ misconduct separate from, which Grant said she thinks will help students make informed choices when deciding what organizations to become involved with on campus.

“If someone wants to be part of an organization that really honors its participants and creates a positive environment, he or she can see if it has gotten into trouble and, if so, can choose to be part of a different organization with a more positive culture,” Grant said.

Mezey said while he does not predict that a majority of students will use the misconduct reports in their decision to join clubs, the reports “could absolutely help some students become more comfortable in their decision.”

Scelfo said that before the resolution, the University was “underutilizing” its pre-existing hazing resources. He also echoed Grant, saying he hopes students use the released misconduct reports as a tool in choosing what organizations they would like to becoming involved in.

“Someone could very well want to join an a capella or social justice group that they see at the student organizations fair in August and have no idea that they’ll require you to wear a toga and drink 11 shots in order for you to get membership,” Scelfo said. “That’s not fair to a student if an organization was found responsible for previous cases [of misconduct].”

Jessica Reif ’14, president of the Cornell Republicans, said she does not expect her organization to be affected by the resolution. Reif also said, however, that since student organizations are funded by the Student Activities Fee,  individuals paying the fee have the right to know about any misconduct that takes place.

“It creates necessary transparency in the community and campus as a whole,” she said.

Original Author: Dara Levy