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Anti-bullying law sparks U. to reassess policy

With the signing of the new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the first of its kind to set deadlines on school teachers and administrators to combat bullying, the University is now taking steps to adjust their own policy.

According to the bill, the only requirement for institutes of higher education is to adopt a policy that will be included in the student code of conduct, which prohibits harassment, intimidation and bullying.

The bill details what constitutes these three criteria as well as requiring the institution to detail the disciplinary actions that will ensue if any student violates the code of conduct.

Anne Newman, director of the Office of Student Conduct, said the University has a policy similar to the legislation's requirements.

"Currently, one of the [Student] Code [of Conduct] violations is a violation of the Student Life Policy Against Verbal Assault, Defamation and Harassment. This policy covers behaviors that constitute bullying," Newman said via e-mail correspondence.

The policy outlines the criteria that constitute a violation as well as what punishment befalls a student who is found to have been in violation.

"Verbal assault, defamation, or harassment interferes with the mission of the University. Each member of this community is expected to be sufficiently tolerant of others so that all students are free to pursue their goals in an open environment, able to participate in the free exchange of ideas and able to share equally in the benefits of our educational opportunities," according to the policy.

Regardless of similarities, Newman's office is working with the University's legal counsel in an effort to make some changes to the Code of Conduct.

"Counsel's Office and the Office of Student Conduct are working together to develop language for the code that meets the requirements of the new legislation. Any policy changes will be forwarded for approval," Associate General Counsel at the University Monica Barrett said via e-mail.

Any changes to the Code of Conduct must go through a certain process before they become approved, Newman said.

The Committee on Student Conduct, a group of University community members charged by the vice president for Student Affairs to make recommendations, reviews the changes initially, she said. The committee then sends its recommendation to the vice president for Student Affairs as recommendations to be approved.

"Minor changes can be approved by the vice president for Student Affairs. Major changes need to be sent to the Board of Governors for final approval," Newman said.

The Office of Student Conduct is also meeting with student groups and holding forums to get community members involved in what the process for addressing violations of the code should be like.

"We intend to use the information collected to revise the conduct system to better serve the Rutgers students," she said. "It is our intention to examine how bullying is currently addressed and see if there is a better way to address the concern through changes."

Another provision of the bill states that the institution shall distribute the policy by e-mail to each student within seven days of the start of each semester, starting next school year.

The University is still trying to determine the best way to reach the students and which office should be responsible for the notification, Newman said.

School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Jessica Golden thinks the best way to reach the students is through e-mail.

"I usually read all my e-mails, even the official ones from the University, so I am on top of everything and know what is going on," Golden said. "If they put it [out] through Eden, I would definitely read it."

School of Environmental and Biological Sciences first-year student Britney Plotnick had another idea to ensure the message reaches students.

"Facebook," Plotnick said. "Everyone goes on there every single day, and they always check their Facebook."

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