Cornell seeks community feedback on proposed revision of Campus Code of Conduct

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Cornell is revising its Campus Code of Conduct -- which defines appropriate behavior and disciplinary actions required when rules are broken -- and campus administrators are requesting feedback from the Cornell community at

The University Assembly (UA) will gather the feedback, cull over the input and make recommendations to Cornell President David Skorton for a new code by April 1, 2007.

"For this process to be most effective as well as timely, I invite all members of the community and interested parties to submit comments, concerns and recommendations to the University Assembly as soon as possible," said Skorton in a Nov. 20 letter to the university. "I will submit proposed changes for final consideration by the university's Board of Trustees at its May 2007 meeting, in time for the next academic year starting in August of the same year."

The original code was largely created in the 1970s and last revised in 1987. Volatile issues of the late 1960s (including the 1969 student takeover of Willard Straight Hall) influenced the code's content. As part of a resolution that addressed students' dissatisfactions with the campus disciplinary system, a new campus judicial system was created with an independent judicial administrator responsible for settling infractions of the code.

In November 2005, Hunter Rawlings, then interim president of Cornell, asked Senior Adviser Barbara Krause, a former Cornell judicial administrator and now at Skidmore College, to make recommendations for changes.

"An effective disciplinary system should hold individuals accountable for behavior that violates the norms of the community," wrote Rawlings in his letter to Krause requesting her recommendations. "It [the Campus Code of Conduct] should be straightforward, comprehensible and fair to both those who invoke it and those who are subject to its reach."

The resulting April 2006 Krause Report (Report on a Review and Proposed Revision of the Cornell University Campus Code of Conduct) proposes fundamental changes that reflect today's campus. The code, her report suggests, should define Cornell's vision of itself as an aspiring educational community, eliminate its criminal law language and structure, and decisions on student discipline be incorporated into other university student affairs work. In May 2006, Rawlings circulated the report to many campus community members, including all chairs of assemblies, and invited a careful review.

Krause reported that the current code was "too difficult to read" and suggested that it should be "simpler and less redundant." She also said that serious cases took too long to resolve and that the code was too lenient about violent acts. Krause noted that community members expressed frustration over a lack of transparency in the disciplinary system, in which people heard of infractions but never learned of the outcomes.

Krause also recommended that since 97 percent of the cases (of which there are now more than 800 annually) concern students, the judicial administrator position should be eliminated, and cases should be handled instead by a new Office of Student Conduct within the Dean of Students Office.

While the university currently only has off-campus jurisdiction in cases of "exceptionally grave misconduct," Krause's proposal would give the Office of Student Conduct leeway to get involved if "misconduct poses a direct and substantial threat to [the] University's educational mission or to the health, safety, or property of the University and its members," her report said.

Currently, the university waits until criminal proceedings are over before taking its own actions when a case requires attention from both the court and university systems. Under the new proposal, the university would proceed with its own disciplinary actions even if a case were still in the courts, but the university could also choose to defer action.

Sanctions under a new system would still include "progressively more serious" disciplinary actions, but such offenses as violent or biased acts would result in dismissal or suspension.

While current disciplinary procedures mimic the criminal justice system, a new approach would be educational, ensuring fairness and "insisting upon accountability" for code violators. Another change concerns the sufficiency of evidence: Where the current code requires "clear and convincing" evidence, the proposal refers to a preponderance of evidence ("more likely than not"), a standard that most campus judicial systems use.

Regarding the "right to remain silent," the current code follows criminal justice guidelines, but a new system would make all campus members "obligated to cooperate" with the Office of Student Conduct. If a student chose to remain silent, then the evidence would take precedence.

An accused student currently can appeal his or her case on certain grounds, and the judicial administrator cannot. Under new rules, the person who files a complaint (the "complainant," rather than a judicial administrator) would not be allowed to appeal, while the accused student or Office of Student Conduct could appeal on "certain stated grounds."

In addition, Skorton has created a working group to collaborate with the UA and to advise him on developing the new code of conduct. According to Skorton, members of the newly formed working group include key offices and individuals who are especially conversant with the workings of the Campus Code of Conduct and whose vantage points will inform the discussion. They are: Susan Murphy, vice president for student and academic services (chair); Charlie Walcott, dean of the university faculty; Alison Power, dean of the graduate school; Tommy Bruce, vice president for university communications; Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources; Mary Beth Grant, judicial administrator; and Jim Mingle, university counsel and secretary of the corporation.

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Krishna Ramanujan