The Undergraduate Student Government at the University of Connecticut is continuing to push for student involvement within the university’s Community Standards hearing process.
USG Chief Justice Andrew Stern was a co-author of legislation that passed through USG senate in mid-February and recently met with director of Community Standards Cathy Cocks to review the proposal to add students onto the hearing board.
Stern said Cocks did not give a definite answer after the meeting as to whether students would be allowed to sit on the board and wanted additional time to review the proposal before coming to a decision.
“Students on this campus definitely feel that a lot of the [disciplinary] processes… are unfair,” Stern said. “I think a way to combat that is through student representation.”
University spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said Community Standards involves students in processes when they can, including seats on the Academic Integrity Hearing Board and the university probation review process.
Stern said Cocks had many concerns about adding students to the hearing board. Many people who sit on the current board have masters or doctorate degrees. Stern said while students may not have those credentials, their perspective is equally important as a degree.
“Even though they have master’s degrees or doctorates, there’s still a level of disconnect,” Stern said. “We, therefore, think it’s imperative that the student body has a voice on this hearing board.”
Reitz said the experience of the current board is crucial to the hearing process.
“The staff members who conduct Community Standards investigations are highly trained professionals who have dedicated their careers to this field,” Reitz said.
Additionally, many of the cases brought to Community Standards concern sensitive topics. Drug offenses, sexual misconduct and theft are among the violations brought against students in the 2015-2016 year.
Reitz said the confidential nature of many cases is the reason why it is “not appropriate” to include students on the hearing board.
“Those investigations are a holistic look at many factors – the student’s alleged violation of the Student Code, along with other confidential matters in his or her life, the lives of other students and a variety of circumstances,” Reitz said, adding if their peers are present, accused students or witnesses may be hesitant to be forthcoming during hearings.
Stern stressed students would have extensive training before being utilized on the hearing board and the accused student would have the option, not the requirement, of having a student representative on their hearing. In USG’s judiciary proposal, at any time during the hearing process, the accused student can choose to no longer have the student representative on their hearing board.
Stern admitted the university’s bureaucratic system has made it tough to get Community Standards on board with the idea of student representatives.
“It seems right now that Cathy Cocks is very content with the way it is,” Stern said.
While it seems the effort to get students on Community Standards will be a tough one, Stern is willing to keep pushing for it.
“I’m pretty skeptical right now but that does not mean our fight is over,” Stern said. “We’re going to continue to try to get this through.”
The proposal submitted to Community Standards by the USG judiciary outlines the importance of student representation on the board, how other colleges use student representation on disciplinary boards and possible ways to implement student representation.
The University of New Hampshire, University of Rhode Island and University of Massachusetts, among several others, all include students in their discipline processes. Most Connecticut state schools do not have students on their disciplinary hearing boards, with the exception of Western Connecticut State University.
Stern is also in the early stages of working to have student representatives on UConn’s parking services appeal board. He said, by talking to students, he’s learned the biggest concern on campus is with parking services and their policies.
“We want to give student voice to areas where we feel like they should be and are currently not,” Stern said.
Stern reiterated the student voice can be valuable to the university’s administration and supported increased student involvement in processes like Community Standards.
“I’m sure the [board] right now has people on it that are very experienced and have been there for a long time,” Stern said. “But again, just because you have a master’s degree or a doctorate, that does not mean that the student voice should be mitigated.”
Schae Beaudoin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.