Implementation of student rights statement on hold pending resolution of Regents’ concerns

By Jane R. Elgass

Implementation of the Statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities is on hold for the time being after several Regents raised concerns in a number of areas.

A draft version—revised from version 12.2 that was published in the Oct. 19 Record—was presented to the Regents for their information at last week’s meeting at U-M-Flint. They were not asked to act on the item.

Vice President for Student Affairs Maureen M. Hartford had asked that President James J. Duderstadt implement the statement under powers afforded him by Regents’ Bylaw 2.01. The Bylaw satates that the president “shall exercise such general powers not inconsistent with the applicable laws of the state of Michigan and these Bylaws as are inherent in a chief executive; including, without limitation, … the maintenance of health, diligence, and order among the students.”

Regents Neal D. Nielsen, Deane Baker and Veronica Latta Smith vigorously opposed implementation of the statement for a number of reasons, with both Smith and Nielsen saying they had not had enough time to thoroughly review the document. It was faxed to them the evening prior to the meeting.

Nielsen also said that the Flint campus was not the appropriate place for discussion of the statement. “It is somewhat surreptitious to bring this up at Flint. The students in Ann Arbor should have an opportunity to discuss this. We have no business doing this in Flint.”

Nielsen and Smith both objected to the idea of having Duderstadt implement the policy. “It is ridiculous to tell the president to do it today, especially having gotten it last night. This is a Board matter and we have a responsibility to address it. The President has no right to adopt this under 2.01,” Nielsen said.

Smith said she “found the whole thing a little daunting,” and charged that the University was inviting lawsuits by applying procedures to incidents that happen off campus.

Baker, who said he “strongly opposes a code for any reasons except those required by law,” called the statement “Orwellian” and said it could be expanded to control virtually every aspect [of students’ lives]” and would become “a tool for behavior modification.”

He also asked for “full discussion by the University community” and said any action must be taken by the Regents, not the president.

Among his concerns:

—No provision is made for representation of the accused by an attorney.

—Off-campus actions cited in the statement already are covered by city and state statutes.

—The judicial adviser may call on a number of organizations on campus, but none of the religious organizations are included in the list.

—The University is placed in the judicial role of trying murder cases.

—The statement is highly selective in the crimes it lists and doesn’t include others that are in state statutes.

Baker also said that it is impossible to define expectations we have of students because “it is impossible to define the University’s values except generally and to reconcile those of the students’ family values with those of the University.”

He said that a portion of the statement that says it is appropriate for the University to ask a student to change behavior “comes out of Orwell.”

Regents Paul W. Brown, Philip H. Power and Nellie M. Varner called for implementation of the statement on an interim basis to test it out.

“This issue has come before the Board and campus for many years,” Varner noted, “and this one represents more input and agreement that some code is needed, some statement of responsibilities. We should implement it on an interim basis and then we can refine it, see where the problems are and work them out.”

Brown noted that although the Regents didn’t hold hearings on the statement, there was ample opportunity for student input. “We’ll never be able to get a code that satisfies everyone. We are mandated to have some parts in place. We have no choice but to have a process in place. It may not be perfect and [Regent Baker] raises some good objections.

“It is almost impossible for anyone to write a code that’s crystal clear on every point. The easiest way to define it is to use it. We have to use our best judgment and go ahead, We must do the best we can and hope that reasonable minds will apply [it] reasonably.”

Power also called for implementation of the statement, noting that it would “give a reality test to an otherwise theoretical document. The Regents’ questions are appropriate. We’ll learn how to perfect it if we have a code. There’s no other way to do it.”

Regent Shirley M. McFee also expressed concern about the availability of legal counsel, questioned the situations under which actions can be taken on off-campus incidents and asked for a clearer explanation of the timing and the University’s role in cases that have pending criminal action in the public courts.

Duderstadt noted at the close of the meeting that “important issues were raised and that the statement is organic and evolutionary in its development. The Board has raised a number of good questions and we’ll respond. I still have the authority to enact [the statement] but I don’t intend to use [that authority] until the details and questions have been resolved.”

Hartford told the Record last Friday that she “appreciates the input provided by the Regents. We will work with the Regents to modify the statement to make certain their concerns are addressed.”


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