Student rights statement back on drawing board

By Jane R. Elgass

Version 10.2 of the proposed Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities will go back to the editing table this week for revisions that address a number of student concerns.

The concerns were voiced over the past several weeks at a number of focus groups with student organizations that involved Vice President for Student Affairs Maureen A. Hartford and her staff ,and at two town meetings last week. Additional focus groups are scheduled this week.

Hartford originally hoped to have the statement in place by early October. Despite the re-write work, she still hopes to have the process completed by mid-October.

Hartford says the process she has gone through “can serve as a model for bringing discussion [of issues] to the University community. This has been an extremely helpful process for the University community,” Hartford told the Record last Thursday. “The level of discussion has been very high. The thoughtfulness of the students and faculty has been very impressive.”

Hartford has taken up the offer of several students to help her “churn through the recommendations.” They include David Schwartz, second-year law student; Yael Citro, LS&A junior and member of The Michigan Daily editorial staff; Rob Van Houweling, LS&A senior and chair of the Michigan Student Assembly’s Student Rights Commission; and Sandy Piderit, a first-year graduate student at the School of Business Administration.

Daniel H. Sharphorn, assistant general counsel who attended both town meetings, offered to work with students on language related to free speech and demonstrations.

The revised version will be publicized widely on campus, Hartford says, and she will hold at least one town meeting for review and discussion of that document.

Hartford reminded students at both town meetings that two elements of the statement are mandated by the federal government—the sections on alcohol and drugs and on sexual assault and rape. “You do have a choice on the procedures, and on what the policy looks like,” she told them.

Many of the students’ concerns revolve around vague language in the current version, with some, calling it “dangerously vague,” and requesting tighter, more definitive language.

Hartford noted in the Sept. 23 town meeting that there were two approaches to drafting the statement. One, reflected in version 10.2, allows the community to set standards for appropriate behavior through an appeal process. This approach does not delineate specific types of behavior that might be sanctioned.

“This may not work here,” she said. “We can write a document that’s as specific as possible. A lot of students like the vagueness, but many also are concerned.”

Among the issues raised by students that will be reviewed in the re-draft process is the ability of students to file a complaint against faculty and staff. Many students are not aware that there is a faculty/staff policy on discrimination. There also is a 1988 Interim Policy on Discrimination and Discriminatory Harassment for Faculty and Staff that is being revisied. Part of that policy has been rescinded because of a Supreme Court ruling on hate speech.

Several also were concerned that the statement would affect freedom of speech. Hartford and Sharphorn noted that the statement does not address free speech and was not intended to do so, and that the University does, in fact, have a policy on freedom of expression.

Both agreed that reference to these policies should be included in the revised statement. Sharphorn suggested that a packet be developed that includes all University policies.

University ombudsman Donald J. Perigo attended both town meetings and at the conclusion of the Sept. 23 meeting delineated the issues that will be reviewed during the revision process. They include:

—Incorporation of an amendment provision.

—Clarification that the statement does not apply to academic activities.

—The right to a hearing if mediation is not successful.

—New language about the mediation process to ensure student involvement.

—Protection of First Amendment rights.

—Clarification that the statement applies to only those off-campus activities that affect the health and safety of students.

—Appointment of a student to the appeal board.


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