MSA questions power of Student Conduct Committee

The two bills that sparked the debate are less controversial.

Cait Campbell / Graphic Designer

The Missouri Students Association Senate discussed two bills supporting changes made to the Student Conduct Committee bylaws in early November.

What sparked debate in full Senate was not the content of the bills but the power of the committee.

One piece of legislation, 52-30, supports the expansion of the M-Book, MU’s student code of conduct, to include nonconsensual sexual behavior, threats of violence, stalking, privacy invasion, harassment and participation in attempted or actual theft, according to the legislation.

The second piece of legislation, 52-29, supports the change in the student conduct hearings process to let people who complain in nonconsensual sexual behavior cases to have the "same rights" as the accused, according to the legislation.

These bills were written to support the changes because both changes have already been made to the committee’s bylaws.

Taylor Major, the author of the bills and a member of the committee, said he thinks the bills are not controversial, but they were both tabled at the Nov. 14 MSA full Senate.

“My problem with the bills was I thought that they made small changes within this broadly flawed system,” academic affairs chairman Ben Levin said. “By passing them without acknowledging this broadly flawed system, you run this risk of endorsing this institution, which I don’t think MSA should be endorsing.”

The Student Conduct Committee is composed of 15 faculty, five faculty alternates, one faculty alternate to the alternates, six MSA discipline panel members, four Graduate Professional Council discipline panel members, one ex officio and one support.

Faculty members are appointed by the Board of Curators, and student members are appointed by the Chancellor’s Standing Committee, according to the UM System website and Major.

Levin said he does not think the committee members are qualified to assess evidence in a professional way because they do not use due process of law like a court does.

“The committee should wait until legitimate due process has occurred before kicking kids out of school or taking away thousands of dollars of scholarship money,” Levin said.

Potential sanctions can include an “entire range” of punishments, Major said, including probation, counseling sessions, termination from MU, expulsion, suspension, writing assignments, banishment from specific buildings and a warning, among others.

In order to rule a student committed a violation, the committee needs to be 51 percent certain to make a ruling, whereas courts need to be 100 percent certain.

The committee does not take the power lightly with the consequences in mind, Major said.

“Every single person (on the committee) recognizes, since we have to vote on the preponderance of evidence, we understand the severity of expulsion, and if we are not 100 percent sure, we often do not recommend it,” Major said. “It’s not easy, but I think we do a great job of taking all things into account (when making decisions).”

Major said he thinks more certainty should be required, something the committee is looking to reform.

The committee should not be using preponderance of evidence at all, Levin said. Instead, it should rely on the rulings of courts.

“The preponderance of evidence is something used by a court to bring things to court,” Levin said. “The fact that it is used by the committee to convict students speaks to how illegitimate their sentences are.”

Levin said he also didn't like the committee's lack of transparency, which he called “unacceptable” and said shows how unprofessional the committee is.

The committee is transparent enough because the committee members introduce themselves to those involved in cases, Major said.

Levin is writing another piece of legislation, which will be voted on at full Senate on Tuesday alongside Major’s bills. Levin’s new bill condemns the amateur nature, broad power and limited accountability of the Student Conduct Committee and urges responsible parties, including the chancellor's office, to reduce the committee's jurisdiction, according to the legislation.

“I don’t see it as terribly likely (it will prompt a change), but I think the first step is going to be making it clear to the chancellor and to Jesse Hall that this committee does not function with the approval of the students it punishes,” Levin said.

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