The University of Wisconsin System will take the next step this week in updating its student misconduct policy, which, if approved, could lead to serious changes in the way students are disciplined by officials.
The revised codes include the universities’ power to discipline students for serious criminal offenses off campus, the shift of the hearing procedure to a more “educational” experience and the lowering for the standard of guilt for sexual harassment and sexual assault offenses.
According to Pat Brady, general counsel for the UW System, the regents will send the revised codes Friday to the legislative council, a committee attached to the Legislature that reviews all administrative rules for any state agency to ensure they comply with various technicalities.
UW System spokesperson David Giroux said this next step is simply a “move through the pipeline.”
“This is a section that had not been updated in years,” Giroux said. “Over time more and more questions were coming about that indicated some of these [codes] were clearly out of date.”
The recommendations, pending a report released by the legislative council, would return to the Board of Regents, at which time a public hearing would be held for public testimonies. Following the hearing, the Legislature would review the recommendations and make necessary changes, Brady said.
“I think there will be a somewhat broader ability to deal with off-campus misconduct,” Brady added. “[The codes] should be somewhat clearer and better in terms of informing people of what is prohibited.”
UW-Madison political science professor and Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights President Donald Downs said the updated codes, if approved, could lead to infringements on students’ due process rights.
Specifically, Downs is concerned with the hearing process becoming less of a legal procedure by not allowing defendants to have counsel speak on their behalf because the situation is “by its very nature adversarial.”
“The hearing is going to determine if a student has violated a code. That can result in reprimand, probation, suspension or expulsion,” Downs said. “I think we need to think hard as to whether or not that makes it more difficult for students. It raises the concern that [officials] will be able to make it more likely for a student to be found guilty.”
Giroux said if students want a campus that is safe, they should support the university in updating the codes.
“What if a serious pattern of violent behavior happens to occur off campus? Do you want the university to have its hands tied?” Giroux added. “Now there will be a clearer set of boundaries. It’s good for students to know that at a certain point the serious things that you do off campus … could eventually put your status as a student at risk.”
Additionally, Downs said the exclusion of UW-Madison from the feedback sessions for revising the codes over the past year was unacceptable.
“Madison was left out of this whole process. They had some students, staff and counselors that were involved,” Downs added. “But there was no faculty input. I wonder why? We tend to be kind of sticklers on this stuff, and we raise questions.”
According to Downs, the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights, a group of 30 faculty members who have been involved in free speech, due process and academic freedom issues on campus, will send a member to the public hearing to voice concerns similar to his own.