Regents talk stricter conduct code

Providing alcohol to minors and bullying were clarified as major offenses.

Regents talk stricter conduct code

Emma Nelson

Providing alcohol to minors, sexual assault and bullying have long violated University of Minnesota policy. Proposed changes to the student conduct code place greater emphasis on these offenses and clarify their consequences.

Amendments to the code were presented to the Board of Regents Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee last week, resulting in some disagreement and plans for further clarification.

Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for Student Affairs, said most of the proposed changes bring increased awareness of existing policies. The code already included information on assaultive behavior, as well as policies about breaking federal or state laws regarding alcohol consumption.

Providing alcohol to minors and bullying are now categorized as disciplinary offenses, and sexual assault constitutes its own disciplinary offense. New or clarified definitions, including a new definition of plagiarism, were also added.

Regent Patricia Simmons, who chairs the committee, called alcohol a “huge issue,” and said creating a safe culture is part of the University’s responsibility to students.

“It’s not just you hand somebody a bottle or a glass,” she said. “If you’re the person who buys it with the understanding that this is going to be handed to someone, then you’re part of the problem.”

The need for more transparent language arose from cases that resulted in disciplinary hearings, particularly ones where lawyers were involved, Rinehart said.

The amendments, which will be voted on at the board’s July meeting, are part of a review cycle that occurs approximately every five years. The code was last amended in 2006.

Policies regarding alcohol consumption are among the most stringent in the Big Ten.

Northwestern University, for example, prohibits providing alcohol to minors but doesn’t extend the policy off campus. Ohio State University’s student conduct code doesn’t have a specific policy on providing alcohol to minors, either on or off campus.

‘Not Big Brother’

Julia Schliesing, a student representative to the board, said she’s glad to see sexual assault and bullying clearly identified as disciplinary offenses.

“From the student perspective, I think [the changes] will only make the University a better place to attend school and work,” she said.

During the committee meeting, Regent Tom Devine questioned the addition of providing alcohol to minors as a disciplinary offense, particularly in regards to off-campus housing.

Taylor Williams, president of the Minnesota Student Association, said this change calls for additional discussion.

“I don’t think students should suffer academic penalties for doing something wrong in their personal lives when they’ll already probably be punished by the city or state,” he said.

Sociology senior Joseph Praska likened the policy to businesses monitoring their employees’ Facebook pages.

“I don’t really think that the University should go see what you’re doing outside of school and penalize you for that,” he said.

Rinehart said he didn’t think further modification to the policy was necessary. The University already has policies on providing alcohol to minors, he said, and the code has extended off campus since January 2007.

“It has, I think, been applied pretty judiciously and carefully, so we’re not bringing people in for minor offenses, and we’re not Big Brother watching everything everybody does,” he said.

Questions also arose regarding the code’s definition of students as both members of the University community and citizens of the state of Minnesota.

Students with ‘triple citizenship’

The specific language used in the code should be changed to account for the fact that not all University students are state citizens, Regent Maureen Ramirez said.

Rinehart said the code will be amended to reflect the idea that students have obligations both in the University as well as in the community at large.

University students have “triple citizenship,” Schliesing said. “They are members of the state, of the city and of the University community.

“If you go here,” she said, “that’s part of the deal.”

Although the code’s reach expands with the proposed changes, the sanctions it lists are flexible and ensure that punishments are appropriate to crimes, Rinehart said.

The goal of the code, he said, is primarily “developmental” and focused on helping students succeed at the University.

Simmons said the committee will ask for a report from the University administration to evaluate the effects of the policy changes.

“I think we should look at it carefully, we should challenge ourselves,” she said. “Have we got it right? How well is this going to serve our students and our University?”