For the first time in decades, the Rules of University Conduct are under review by the Rules Committee of the University Senate. The rules, first introduced after the 1968 protests and made permanent in the 1970s, are designed to protect free speech and protest on campus while at the same time ensuring the continued functioning of University activities.
Punishments for violating the rules can range from a disciplinary warning, to suspension, and even dismissal from the University. Although only students have been prosecuted in the past, all members of the University community are subject to these rules, including faculty and staff. Because of this, we feel strongly that over the course of the next few months, the entire Columbia community should be engaged with this issue and actively participate in a public debate about the rules.
The timing of the rules review stems from the impending retirement of longtime Rules Administrator Stephen Rittenberg at the end of the academic year. Before a new rules administrator is appointed, the Rules Committee aims to review the text of the current regulations to identify any areas that might be improved. Any changes to the rules must be voted on in the senate during the spring and approved by the trustees in June 2015. Because of the urgency of this issue, the senate is acting on an expedited timeline. We urge everyone to voice their opinions while a public platform is available. The text decided upon at the close of the spring semester will likely stand for years, if not decades.
Thus far, the committee has identified the hearing process as one key area for review. Currently, students charged under the rules can choose to be heard under Dean's Discipline or by an external arbiter with no formal ties to the University. Students have the right to an attorney if they choose to be heard by an independent arbiter, and they also have the right to request a closed hearing.
This process, however, is time-consuming and costly for students who have allegedly violated the rules and for the University itself. Some members of the committee feel that the external process ensures a fair, independent hearing. Others believe that it is legalistic and outdated—as President Lee Bollinger recently told Spectator, "These are things that were drafted during the 1968 period, and people didn't like administrators then."
Outside of the committee, students have already begun to engage actively in this process and have identified to us several issues they would like to see clarified or considered for review. These include unclear standards for introducing evidence in hearing procedures, the role of permits for protests granted by University Event Management, the responsibilities of presidential delegates, and the definitions of key language within the rules (such as "private office" and "disrupt a University function").
Other students have told us they feel strongly that sanctions for some violations should be re-examined. While these are the issues that have already been raised, the entire text of the rules is up for evaluation, so students, faculty, and staff should feel comfortable identifying any possible concerns that they have about the rules as they stand.
To ensure that the review process is open and transparent, the committee has set up three town halls to garner ideas and feedback. The first two of these public discussions will be held to decide if the committee wants to make changes to the text. If it does, the committee will prepare recommendations in December and host a third town hall in January to solicit any additional feedback before proceeding to the University Senate, where the committee's proposal will be debated. Each town hall will be open to all CUID holders. We also encourage you to reach out directly to members of the committee to discuss your ideas.
As members of the Columbia community, we take great pride in our campus's energetic protest activity, and we have a responsibility to foster robust debate. The Rules of University Conduct are an expression of our University's values, and we urge everyone to raise concerns, propose changes, and participate in this process.
Jared Odessky is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and a Columbia College University senator. Sejal Singh is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science and the vice president of policy for Columbia College Student Council. They are both on the Rules Committee. The first town hall will take place on Friday, Oct. 17 from 4 to 6 p.m. in 309 Havemeyer. This will be followed by a second town hall on Monday, Nov. 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. in 103 Jerome Greene Hall.
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