Director of student conduct revises decade-old system
The set of regulations that govern student behavior is undergoing several key changes — like becoming more simplified and clear — since it was last updated more than a decade ago.
The Rutgers University Student Assembly was one of the first student groups to publically hear the changes to the Student Code of Conduct from Director of Student Conduct Anne Newman at its meeting last night in the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus.
After conducting surveys in 2010 to examine the opinion of the old code among various sectors of the University community, Newman and her committee decided that the legal language and presentation of the code — in addition to some of its outdated or unclear policies — needed to change.
“It’s more simplistic, so people can understand what it’s about and what to expect,” said Newman of the code, which defines violating behaviors and lays out the processes used to discipline them.
The committee that proposed these changes is defined in the new code as including six Student Affairs representatives, four Academic Affairs representatives, three faculty representatives, three student representatives and three student conduct representatives.
“Students also said they wanted to understand the process, who to talk to if there was a problem and what the consequences should be for their actions,” Newman said.
Students surveyed also said they would like to see the rules and regulations be intended to maintain order at the University and believed that all students should be better informed of the new code and its changes.
One major change to the code — which does not determine whether a student committed a crime — was to change the level of proof needed to determine a student’s responsibility for violating the code.
Under the old code, the office needed “clear and convincing” evidence of a students’ responsibility of a violation — in other words, be about 70 to 75 percent sure, Newman said. Under the new code, the office needs a “preponderance” of evidence to be sure of a student’s responsibility — or about 51 percent sure.
Preponderance, which Newman said is essentially what a reasonable person would conclude to be the case, is used in civil court processes and in 88 percent of institutions around the nation.
Pavel Sokolov, the chair of RUSA Internal Affairs committee, said he is upset with this change in the level of doubt.
Sokolov, a Rutgers Business School sophomore, said this could make it more difficult for students to prove they did not violate the code.
Newman said this decrease in the amount of doubt needed to determine a violation has made board members and her office uncomfortable, but it is the standard being used around the country. If it were not adopted, it could present an issue with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.
“We made the decision to use it but duly noted that there is a concern,” she said.
To combat this concern, the committee altered the punishments associated with certain violations and added more levels of disciplinary sanctions. Specifically, in the new code, the first sanction may be a warning, then a reprimand, probation, suspension and then finally expulsion.
For example, in cases where suspension might have been the normal disciplinary action, under the new code, it may now be probation.
“We’ve lowered our consequences knowing that we lowered the standard [and] that people would be uncomfortable,” Newman said. “We made a conscious decision to do that.”
John Connelly, the RUSA vice president, said this decision to combine a lower evidence of responsibility with a decrease in punitive actions could be hopeful for students.
“But whether or not this will be a good thing remains to be seen,” said Connelly, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
But Newman said for academic integrity issues, a clear and convincing level of evidence is required to convict a student.
One completely new addition to the code is a student rights section toward the beginning of the document that spells out all students’ rights in the student conduct process. It also explains the process on both sides if a student brings forth a complaint, she said.
The new code also moves the information pertaining to the University’s academic integrity policy — involving cases like plagiarism — under its own section, as the University Senate has jurisdiction over academic integrity cases, to help inform students of the policy and its disciplinary process, Newman said.
Before these changes were made, Newman said students felt the code was too difficult to understand, too adversarial and punitive.
“We really don’t think we can help if all we focus on is suspension,” she said.
But with this new version, Newman said the code turns more back to its goal of fostering personal education and social development, and deterring certain behaviors to enhance the safety of the community.
“This is really important and affects students’ lives for the next 10, 15, 20 years. [The Office of Student Conduct] is redoing it right now, making it more concise and more clearly spelling out what isn’t an offence at Rutgers and what are the consequences of these offences,” said RUSA President Matt Cordeiro, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Newman has been working on the changes with the Office of Student Conduct since 2010 and has condensed the code into 18 pages — from around 40.
The committee authoring the changes first will present the final version to Vice President for Student Affairs Gregory S. Blimling, who will then present it to the Board of Governors — the administrative body that must give its final approval by the summer for the code’s application by this fall, Newman said.
Newman encourages students to look at the new code and provide feedback.
“It’s better than what we have,” she said. “But it’s definitely not perfect.”