Modifications to the campus code of conduct, responsible for guiding Cornell’s judicial system, are set to be deliberated by the University Assembly following the recommendation of its Codes and Judicial Committee on Saturday afternoon.
The amendments come in the wake of a petition, signed by almost 300 Cornell undergraduate and graduate students, that called for the committee to reject two proposals concerning the rights of those subject to judicial proceedings and their law school student advisors.
The code revision process has been in the works since January 2019, but has not made serious progress until the Office of the Judicial Administrator and the Office of the Judicial Codes Counselor were able to submit their comments on the code at a CJC meeting on April 10.
The first proposal that the petition “resoundingly” rejected was a change to the code’s procedures section that would deny representation for the accused in code of conduct proceedings.
Currently, students who are referred to the J.A. for code violations are entitled to have a JCC act as their advocate during judicial proceedings. This counselor is a Cornell Law student advisor, who gives opening and closing statements at hearings, questions the JA’s witnesses and prepares documents, according to Gabrielle Kanter J.D. ’20, the current head JCC.
If this change were adopted, students would have to represent themselves, relegating the function of the JCC to an inactive advisory role during hearings. The modification was struck down by the committee in a 6-1 vote.
The petition also states that it is opposed to the OJA’s proposal to bar students from questioning witnesses called by the J.A. during hearings. According to the petition, this change will “seriously hamper” students’ ability to defend themselves.
However, in an email to The Sun, Kanter clarified that the OJA did not draft any new language regarding witnesses. Instead, Kanter said that in referencing the OJA’s “proposals,” the petition was referring to the OJA’s comments on those sections in the CJC’s working document containing the changes to the code.
All the provisions concerning witnesses were drafted by Kanter and Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, labor and employment law, one of the committee’s faculty representatives. On Saturday, the CJC voted to pass all of their proposals.
One of their proposals would allow the accused student to directly question witnesses in hearings that may result in disciplinary probation, suspension or dismissal. Other proposals are similar to language in the existing code, Kanter said.
At last Friday’s CJC meeting, the petition was briefly discussed by a few committee members, including Lieberwitz.
“As the document stands at this point, neither of those things is the case,” she said, referring to the two claims made by the petition. “It may be the OJA’s vision, but it’s not the case as the document currently stands.”
Speaking in support of the ultimately rejected proposal to block counselors from speaking during hearings, Barbara Krause, interim Judicial Administrator, said at the meeting that the “overall objective” is to “make this process more student-focused and student-centered and less legalistic, less like a judicial proceeding.”
While Krause said that the focus of the current amendments to the code is to make the judicial process more “educational” to students, Kanter expressed concerns to The Sun about the prospect of students representing themselves, calling the proceedings’ atmosphere “intimidating.”
“In the hearing phase, students are scared, it’s high stakes and feels very serious,” Kanter said. “The thought of making a student present arguments doesn’t seem educational at that point.”
In a 6-4 vote, the CJC did pass an amendment calling for a reduction in the standard of proof required of the J.A. in finding the accused responsible of a code violation.
The version of the code that will be sent to the U.A. will now ask for “a preponderance of the evidence,” which means that the burden of proof is met when the evidence presented convinces the judicial hearing panel that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that their charges are true.
The current standard of proof required of the J.A. is “clear and convincing evidence,” which means that evidence makes the charges “highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.”
Cat Huang ’21, a student representative on the committee, supported the change.
“It’s the standard across the nation for other schools,” Huang said. “It actually results in a less punitive process overall because it encourages educational conferences and it’s a more fair process.”
The proposed changes to the code are on the U.A.’s website for public comment until May 1. The U.A. will then vote on the changes and pass on their recommendations to the Board of Trustees, who have the final say in whether to adopt the amendments.