Code of conduct passed Senate
Student leaders disturbed about standard of evidence
The Tulane University Senate, chaired by President Scott Cowen, passed an amended version of the Student Code of Conduct by an overwhelming margin Monday, culminating a long revision process aimed at improving the decade-old conduct system.
A uniformed judicial system will now hear cases from what was previously dispersed amongst Greek, housing and administrative panels. Additionally, the revised code incorporates an extensive appellate process that provides students with the opportunity to engage in mediation processes.
One alteration in the standard of proof, however, has sparked controversy about the level of evidence necessary to prosecute accused students. The implementation of a judicial process reliant on a preponderance of evidence — the lowest level of proof used in legal systems — means that prosecutors now need only 51 percent to find students guilty.
Associated Student Body President Tim Clinton, who represented one of the four votes opposing the passage of the code, said he is disappointed with the Senate’s decision and believes his voice still embodies the opinion of the majority of students on campus.
“The outcome was very disheartening,” Clinton said. “Our job is to represent the students’ opinions, and I was speaking for the typical undergraduate student who would view this code’s standard of evidence and agree that the level of evidence needed for prosecution is too low.”
George Wendt, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, said in an editorial published in the latest Hullabaloo that while the standard of evidence was an aspect he would have written differently, his vote in favor of the code focused on the majority of positive changes.
“I am on the record for preferring ‘clear and convincing’ to ‘preponderance’ because false convictions scare me so much,” according to Wendt. “But to attempt to sink the proposed code over this one phrase would be the height of irresponsibility. It is time for us all to move on from solely discussing this standard of evidence.”
USG President Donald “Ratchet” Leverson said the dispute about the changes in the standard of evidence is an argument focused on semantics rather than substantial policy implications.
“The phrase ‘clear and convincing’ was something that a lot of people involved just didn’t understand,” Leverson said. “It seemed to ask ‘Are you sure? Or are you super sure? Or are you super duper sure?’ Preponderance is something that lawyers will be familiar with.”
Clinton said the changed stance of USG representatives Leverson and Lauren Aronson, vice president of student life, disappointed him and hurt his efforts to present a unified student stance opposing the standard of evidence.
“I was very surprised at the little opposition in the Senate hearing,” Clinton said. “Lauren and Ratchet have both done an excellent job representing students’ concerns, but I still believe that if you explained to any student the new level of evidence needed to prosecute, they wouldn’t be okay with it.”
Michael Hogg, vice president of student affairs, said the revised Student Code of Conduct does not represent a shift in the administrations’ attitude toward student conduct, but is rather an attempt to make judicial procedures fairer and more effective.
“We are in the business of graduating students, not dismissing them,” Hogg said. “We want a document that we can work with that includes a fair and robust appellate process. Under the previous code, we had students charged with the same violation who received different penalties.”
Catherine Hancock, professor of constitutional law and a member of the University Senate, said that in her opinion as both a parent and a lawyer, the passage of the revised Student Code of Conduct was vital to the effectiveness of the university’s judicial system.
“Lawyers cannot define ‘clear and convincing,’” Hancock said. “Preponderance is the norm. When I heard about the debate, I could not help but think as a parent, who trusts my daughter to a university, how much of a concern a lack of enforcement needs to be.”
As the new code goes into effect in the fall of 2010, Hogg said students can voice their concerns through the Student Affairs Committee of the Senate.
“Members of the administration or students can propose changes through the SACS,” Hogg said. “The committee can then recommend changes to the faculty senate for approval.”
Clinton said he hopes students will pay attention to the details of the new code and voice their concerns.
“I think it’s important that students pay attention and notice just how easy it is for the administration to prosecute them,” Clinton said. “Students are not as protected as they once were.”