April 17, 2017

EDITORIAL: In Defense of Mitch McBride

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The University’s decision to charge Mitch McBride ’17 with two violations of the Campus Code of Conduct is misguided and contrary to the principle of transparency. The administration was caught off guard when McBride allegedly leaked to The Sun a series of internal documents drafted by the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group and is now scrambling to overcompensate for their previous missteps. The overzealousness of the Office of the Judicial Administrator could damage the relationship between students and administrators for years to come.

McBride is accused of failing to “comply with any lawful order of a clearly identifiable University official acting in the performance of his or her duties” in violation of Title IV of the Campus Code. The University has not produced any papers signed by McBride or any other members of the AFAWG agreeing to the confidential nature of the leaked documents because no such agreement exists. The failure of the chair of AFAWG, Dean Barbara Knuth, to adequately prepare for such a contingency by requiring such a written agreement has left the University grasping at straws. The absence of a written agreement has forced the University to argue that administrators under Title IV can compel students to act in any directed manner, an interpretation that, according to Prof. Kevin Clermont, law, would “radically alter the society we live in.” Clermont, who in 2007 and 2008 assisted in the revision of the Campus Code, further stated that Title IV applies only to directives made “to maintain the public order,” as authorized by New York Education Law. McBride’s actions did not cause riots on campus; they did not upset the public order, and it is unreasonable to suggest that any such leaks would have done so. The University should accept that the Code does not apply in this situation and, if they so choose, take further precautions in the future to assure confidentiality, but they should not attempt to expand their authority by reconstruing the current policy.

The Office of the Judicial Administrator also charged McBride with “forging, fraudulently altering, willfully falsifying or otherwise misusing University or non-University documents,” a violation of the Campus Code Title III. McBride did not forge the documents; he did not fraudulently alter them; he did not willfully falsify them. In the context of the Campus Code, “misuse” is presented in the same category as forgery, fraudulent alteration and willful falsification by the adverb “otherwise.” Any misuse prosecuted under Title III must be comparable to the three enumerated behaviors. Sharing is not comparable to forgery or fraud or falsification, and in the absence of any written non-disclosure agreement, it is without basis to charge McBride under Title III.
When The Sun published the AFAWG documents, it did so in the interest of transparency. As an independent news organization, it is incumbent on us to report issues and stories important to and affecting the Cornell and broader Ithaca community, such as the proposed changes to Cornell’s admissions policy. It is unfortunate that such discussions were taking place behind closed doors with such limited input from the Cornell student body — had the proceedings been more transparent, leaks would not have been necessary. That being said, The Sun will continue to defend the principles of free speech and disclosure, and will speak up against overzealous and damaging disciplinary actions taken by the University.