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The Board of Trustees voted to accept the recent Cornell code of conduct revisions — the culmination of a process almost two years in the making.

December 11, 2020

Undeterred By Calls For Delay, Board of Trustees Approves Controversial Code of Conduct Revisions

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Despite repeated attempts by student representatives to postpone a vote, the Board of Trustees voted to accept the recent Cornell code of conduct revisions — the culmination of a process almost two years in the making.

The code revisions, authored by University lawyers, were met with criticism for its changes to the Cornell judicial process, including resolutions from the Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Students Assembly and the University Assembly that opposed the revisions.

Concerns about the code ranged from issues of jurisdiction — changes to the new student code of conduct would be under the purview of Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi instead of the U.A. — to the reduced role of law student counselors for students in judicial proceedings.

On Dec. 8, the GPSA and U.A. unanimously passed resolutions in favor of retaining the U.A.’s ability to amend the code in the future. Under the new revisions, changes to the code will be advised by a committee staffed by S.A. and GPSA representatives.

“[The code] doesn’t address what a ‘consultative’ role means, and what happens if the S.A. and GPSA disagree?” said Nikola Danev grad, GPSA executive vice president. “Whereas the U.A. is one body, so it presents a unified decision from all the constituent assemblies.”

Danev said the loss of jurisdiction over the code fundamentally undermined the purpose of the U.A., which was founded in 1977 to oversee the academic calendar, Campus Life policies and the code of conduct and judicial review.

“By taking [that power] away from the jurisdiction of the University Assembly, we’re taking away one of the core tenets of shared governance at Cornell,” Danev said.

Other concerns levied cast doubt on whether the revision process had enough student participation.

The S.A. unanimously passed a resolution on Dec. 4 asking the Board of Trustees to postpone the vote until the spring semester, arguing that the period for public comment lasting from Oct. 14 to Nov. 17 was too short for students to engage with the revisions during a hybrid semester.

“The unique online nature of the semester leads to challenges in every area, but particularly when it comes to advocacy and activism,” said Evan Moy ’21, a sponsor of the resolution.

Despite the opposition, the vote went on as planned — making the changes official. The code changes will come into effect before the fall 2021 semester, according to the University.

Along with the changes in jurisdiction, the code places the Office of the Judicial Administrator under the umbrella of the Office of Student and Campus Life, in an effort to make the judicial process less “adversarial” and “legalistic.”

It will also keep the “clear and convincing” standard of proof — meaning that evidence must be “highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue” to find a student responsible — rather than the lower “preponderance of evidence” proposed in earlier drafts of the code.

“The new Code and Procedures articulate affirmative values of education, rehabilitation, restorative justice, and informal dispute resolution, a change in direction that is far more suited to SCL than to the office of the J.A.,” read the University press release.

Danev, who sponsored a Nov. 23 resolution critical of the revisions, said he was concerned with the restrictions the new code places on law student advisors. The new code limits when JCCs may speak and requires them to write out all questions beforehand, except during hearings dealing with serious sanctions like suspensions and expulsions.

“It is incredibly intimidating for some students, especially international students like myself, to tell their stories clearly and concisely on their own, and their oral presentation skills shouldn’t affect whether or not they’re found responsible by the OJA,” Danev said.

The changes to the code will have a profound effect on the students population, given that the judicial process involves over 800 students every year.

“Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the Student Assembly, and everybody else who believes in shared governance, will continue to advocate for greater community representation within any code of conduct changes,” Moy said.