University’s riot policy is unfair

Recently, the University Board of Regents approved a plan to discipline students involved in off-campus riots. The conduct code would only apply to riots stimulated by “a University-sponsored event.” While the University has legitimate reasons to protect and uphold its image as a safe and inviting place, making this public relations task the responsibility of students in their off-campus lives is inappropriate University policy. When it comes to punishing students for their off-campus criminal behavior, the state’s criminal code and its executioners should have sole sentencing responsibility – even if the riot is fueled by a University-related event.

The rationale for applying University-related penalties to students found guilty of off-campus rioting appears to be based on the University’s belief that students should be held to a higher standard of conduct. University President Bob Bruininks said rioting is “inconsistent with the values of this university,” and rioters connected to the University should be additionally punished for violating the University’s value system. Further, it is argued that attending the University is a privilege, and behavior unbecoming of students should lead to the loss of educational standing.

While expecting the best of University students is laudatory, it is discriminatory and unfair to hold them to standards not applied throughout the rest of society’s institutions. A Target employee (employment is a privilege) arrested for riotous conduct while barhopping to celebrate a raise (a Target-related event) would not lose his job, even though the Target Corporation does not condone rioting. Why should University students be held to a standard that most others in our society are not?

The riot policy is problematic for other reasons as well. The noninclusion of University employees in the policy creates a double standard for students. The policy will also expose rioting students to double jeopardy: a legal situation normally not countenanced in this country.

If the University wishes to see harsher punishment for riotous behavior among students, it should convince the State Legislature and the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to increase the riot-related penalties for all Minnesotans. In so doing, students might think twice before rioting – not because their future will be negatively altered by the University, but because the criminal punishment for rioting is harsh enough to act as a deterrent.