The University Record, April 24, 1995

Regents ask for new code

Regents ask for new code

By Jane R. Elgass

Acting on a motion put forward by Regent Rebecca McGowan last week, the Regents approved continuing the current Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities as an interim document and told Vice President for Student Affairs Maureen Hartford to return in the fall with a simple statement of values that does not infringe on First Amendment Rights.

In offering her motion, McGowan said the University "is a community of scholars with rights and responsibilities, and we hope all members share a similar sense of values, though they may differ on interpretation."

She said the Board is "asking the vice president for student affairs to begin again on a statement of values and a statement of process that emphasizes education."

She said the Board wants "a clear, concise statement, understandable and fair process, that is less legalistic and ponderous." To be included in the drafting process is "direct consultation with students who are popularly elected and others at her [Hartford's] determination."

Hartford was directed to bring to a fall meeting "a statement of student rights and responsibilities that represents the very best you can do and recommendations for a permanent policy. For the duration, the interim statement unamended will remain in place."

Regent Laurence B. Deitch echoed sentiments of other Board members, saying "we don't want a speech code. What's very important as this is redrafted is First Amendment rights, even if that means people can say what they want and be obnoxious.

"The University is a community that depends on certain values--civility, respect, collegiality. As a teaching institution, we need a simple statement of norms, values and the expectation of people who freely choose to belong. It should emphasize mediation and conciliation by peers. The greatest teaching lesson is peer review."

Regent Deane Baker, who voted against retention of the statement on an interim basis, issued a note of caution, stating that "codes of conduct written poorly can be speech codes."

Asked if there is a code he would accept, Baker noted that he believes the Regents' Bylaws give the president sufficient authority to act when necessary, and that if he saw a "simpler and better" code he might support it.

The value of a code of conduct that would help students make the transition from a parent-dominated environment to the real world, which also has its own set of mores and policies, was underscored by Regent Shirley M. McFee.

"The value of a code is the value of helping individuals make that transition. Any code, any process, has to have an educational and participatory element.

"I agree that we need a simple, understandable [code] with student involvement in enforcement."

Regent Philip H. Power reviewed history a bit, noting that past processes have been flawed in two ways. A substantial number of the students involved in drafting the statement did not believe in a code, "so their participation was insincere." In addition, the Board amended "and confused the code with the legal system. We're not talking legal system."

Power also noted that individuals came to believe that "if they were recalcitrant, the [process] could spin out forever."

"There will be a code," Power said. "The process will be managed by Vice President Hartford, or it can be left to the Board ... which is a recipe for big trouble."

Deitch had noted earlier that "when it comes back we're going to get this done. It's not Chinese water torture. Those involved must agree."

Power complimented the students who addressed the Board at its public comments session the day before, noting that their presentations and demeanor "was an example of behaving with civility while expressing passionate convictions."