Recently, the Missouri Students Association raised concerns about the Student Conduct Committee’s procedures, power and transparency.
MSA Academic Affairs Chairman Ben Levin authored a bill condemning the committee, although it did not pass full Senate on Wednesday. Of the senators, 44.44 percent voted against the bill, 33.33 percent voted for it, 11.11 percent abstained and 11.11 percent did not vote or were absent.
The Student Conduct Committee is comprised of 15 faculty members appointed by the Board of Curators and 10 students — six from MSA and four from the Graduate Professional Council – appointed by the chancellor with the aid of the MSA president. Students are present on the committee if the offender requests it.
The Student Conduct Committee is the formal process for hearing student conduct violation cases. A case only reaches the committee if the alleged offender rejects the sanctions imposed by the primary administrative officer.
If the alleged offender rejects the sanctions imposed by the committee, he or she can appeal to the chancellor. The chancellor may affirm or reverse the committee’s decision or request further proceedings.
The primary advisory officer is currently Donell Young, the Office of Student Conduct senior coordinator.
Young said he welcomes discussion with MSA about their concerns with the committee.
One concern raised in Levin’s bill was Young’s multiple roles in the student conduct violation process.
In addition to other offices such as the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, Young helps to train the committee members.
“I’m very involved in the process but more about addressing committee questions,” Young said.
Young also compiles case information, which goes to the committee and serves as a bulk of its evidence.
Levin called this a conflict of interest in his bill.
Others found some issue with this practice.
“Both parties in front of the committee should be coming in front of the committee with no prior relationships other than the presenting of cases,” Steve Concannon, coordinator of student legal services, said.
Young said he understood the concern, but the committee is very thorough.
“The committee does not cut me any slack,” Young said. “(The members) express how they feel and I have to be prepared.”
The committee is able to rule on cases involving physical abuse, nonconsensual sexual behavior, stalking, harassment, invasion of privacy, participating in attempted and actual theft, among others, according to the M-Book. These violations are also tried in a court of law.
Levin’s resolution took issue with the committee’s ability to rule on a criminal case before a court does. The resolution stated the proper role of the Student Conduct Committee should be to assess punishment for violations of academic integrity and crimes for which the student has been found guilty in a court of law.
The resolution also said the committee often arrives at a different conclusion than that of a court, according to the resolution.
Another issue discussed in MSA meetings was how a court requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but the committee makes decisions based on preponderance of evidence – described as being 51 percent sure the student committed the act.
Young said the committee operates this way for a number of reasons. First, courts often taken much longer than the committee does, so a dangerous student could be on campus before a court has time to prosecute.
“I think (students) would be concerned if they were on campus and they were concerned for their safety and the university did not act, or waited a year or two to make a decision where a student could potentially be in danger of their health and safety,” Young said.
Second, being proven innocent by a court does not necessarily mean one is innocent, Young said. The case may have lacked substantial evidence to reach a conviction.
Third, the committee has different standards than a court does, Young said.
“(The committee members) are not trained on criminal law at all,” Young said. “They’re trained on what is a violation of the standards of conduct and what is the proof we need.”
Young added that the majority of the cases the committee deals with do not focus on proving a student guilty, because students admit they violated the code of conduct.
“Of the cases we deal with, a vast majority of them are centered around consequences for that violation,” he said.
Another concern raised in Levin’s resolution is the lack of transparency the committee has because it is a closed-door session.
Although the hearings are taped, they cannot be released due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Young said.
Young said, as a member of the National Student Conduct Association, many of MU’s Student Conduct Committee procedures are standard with universities across the nation.
Young said he is receptive to concerns from MSA and students, though, and he would like to host a forum to receive more student feedback.
“I think there is this impression that the student conduct process is like Big Brother trying to invade student rights,” Young said. “That’s not the case at all.”