Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Students on Trial: Conduct Code Revisited

In today's Daily Egyptian, attorney Cyril Robinson offers five substantive criticisms of the revised Student Conduct Code at SIU-Carbondale. Check it out by clicking this link.

From my experience with students and the conduct code, the first four criticisms are accurate: in this day and age, why can't Judicial Affairs allow copies of written complaints or tape recordings of a hearing? Listing a nominal charge is also fair and reasonable.

Mr. Robinson's last criticism puzzles me because it arises again and again without careful explanation as to what role a lawyer could play in these conduct proceedings. It reads:

"5) Students do not have the right to have an attorney or legally trained person of their choosing to represent them at the hearing. They may only have an adviser who whispers advice in their ears, which by definition cannot be part of the record. . . ."

I witnessed the Marc Torney hearing in which the anti-war protester, charged with unauthorized demonstrating, had lawyer Rich Whitney whisper advice in his ear.

Several questions (I have an open mind, I just don't know what a lawyer would do):

1. What role, besides "whispering in the ear," would a lawyer play?

2. If legal counsel's role is greatly expanded (again, how?), would or should that expanded role be limited to the more serious violations?

3. Where are the lawyers? A local lawyer or FIRE or the ACLU might take a high-profile case but southern Illinois lawyers don't have thriving practices that allow many of them to serve as "angel" counselors.

4. Would a system of student advisers and/or examiners augment whatever Robinson proposes? At other universities, students (often graduate students) with flawless social and academic records can volunteer to be trained and serve on hearing boards. (I know, I trained for this role at Ohio State University and a friend served on one of those hearing boards).

The chief problem with the Student Conduct Code seems to be the lack of a paper trail. If you find yourself in trouble, keep a record of everything. Contemporaneous notes are best: email events to yourself because that puts a time/date stamp that shows you actually wrote it at the time of an alleged incident. This is all common sense. If you can afford it, consult an attorney or seek the help of FIRE or the ACLU. Keep in mind that those groups tackle a limited range of cases but they might point you to a lawyer who could help.

All in all, be assertive. Meanwhile, I'll ask Mr. Robinson if he has time to answer my questions. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I asked Terry Huffman some time ago why students were required to copy complaints and evidence against them by hand, and he said that there was no room in the office for a copier! So, all they need is a bigger office.
Mark Schneider