U of M to extend code of conduct to off campus behaviorby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
The University of Minnesota is considering a policy change that would allow officials to hold students responsible for behavior on or off campus. The policy currently only applies to ON campus actions by students. The language gives the university broad discretion, but administrators say it would only apply to serious violations, such as criminal charges against a student. Those who violate the code could have their degree withheld or revoked.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The proposed changes in the student code of conduct extends the university's reach beyond the boundaries of the campus for the first time. Under the new language students could be expelled or face other discipline for any infraction anywhere--whether they're in the campus dorms or on spring break in Fort Lauderdale.
That possibility worries some students, like senior Rahul Dhuria. He says the intent is sound, but he'd like to see some checks and balances.
"It's a good idea with certain limitations", he said. "But you have to draw the line somewhere. Students are going to be students here on college campus. You can't let them do just whatever they want. But there has to be some limitation for what you're penalizing them for and what the severity of the penalty is."
Student Nathan Wanderman also questions the scope of authority the policy gives the university administration. Wanderman is a student representative to the Board of Regents. He told the regents panel discussing the policy that it allows university officials to penalize students for even small offenses, such as underage drinking. Wanderman suggests forming a separate committee of selected students and administrators to make independent judgements about student infractions.
"Potentially, under this policy, that minor consumption policy could be used to impose some kind of sanction on that student," he said.
The university's current code of conduct calls for disciplines against students with offenses ranging from unauthorized alcohol use to felony criminal charges. The new code merely includes behavior off university property.
Vice Provost for Student Affairs Gerry Rinehart says he expects the university to invoke the policy only on rare occasions and never for minor infractions.
"This would probably come into play three to five or six times a year, that there would be something we might want to intervene on. We do not see this as Big Brother following our students around everywhere they go," he said.
Rinehart says the policy extension gives the university a process for enforcing its values. University officials are increasingly concerned about how the actions of individual students reflect on the institution. Residents living near the university frequently complain about noise, vandalism and other annoyances by students. In one notable case, overzealous students and other fans rioted after the university hockey team won the NCAA championship game in 2003. They set fire to cars and damaged property. Much of the disruption happened off campus.
Some students support the policy as it's proposed. Graduate student Mandy Ellerton frequently works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, crimes she says that typically happen away from campus. She says some cases are hard to prosecute and it's possible for assault victims to cross paths with their abusers on campus. In those instances the university is powerless to intervene.
"If they have to go to class every day and have to sit two rows away from the person who assaulted them...they're going to quit class," she says. "They're going to drop out of school. And that to me is a travesty and it breaks my heart to think that happens to real people I see in class every day."
Ellerton says the expanded policy might take some of the burden off the victim. The university Board of Regents is scheduled to make a decision on the policy in December.
- Morning Edition, 11/10/2006, 7:50 a.m.