Angry Wisconsin Dean Resents Fair Procedures for Students
May 6, 2009
As you can see in today's press release, the University of Wisconsin System has been reevaluating part of its student conduct code with a particular emphasis on disciplinary procedures and what process is due to students who are accused of violations. The revisions to the code sections entitled UWS 17 and 18 include the following. Take a look at them and see if they seem reasonable to you:
Changes of significance that have been made to the Chapter 17 documents going to the Board of Regents include:
1. A student accused of a violation of Chapters 17 and 18 may have an attorney as his/her advisor at any misconduct proceeding and the attorney may represent (speak for) the student if the conduct officer is seeking a sanction of suspension or expulsion, or if the student is facing criminal charges for the same behavior that is the focus of the disciplinary proceedings (regardless of the sanction(s) sought by the conduct officer.)
2. An alleged violation of a municipal ordinance will have to be serious "AND" repeated for it to be cause for disciplinary proceedings under Chapter 17. The task force proposal was that the alleged violation of a municipal ordinance needed to be serious "OR" repeated for it to be actionable by the University.
3. The language of the current version of Chapter 17 that gives students the option to choose between a hearing examiner and a hearing committee in any misconduct case will be continued.
4. The current language in Chapter 17 that permits a student to appeal any misconduct case to the Board of Regents, regardless of the sanction(s) imposed through an appeal to the Chancellor, will be retained.
5. In this latest version of changes to Chapter 17, we will be authorized to use email to send disciplinary proceedings communications to students, but we will be obliged to also send this same information in hard copy to the student by personal delivery, placement in the student's campus mailbox, or by use of the U.S. Postal Service.
6. Language is added to Chapter 17 to state that nothing in Chapter 17 is meant to violate the Constitutional rights of students.
If this all seems pretty reasonable to you, congratulations! You're a normal American who understands the importance of fair procedures. You are not, however, Richard W. Egley, Dean of Students at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville, who evidently originally hails from the evil Star Trek mirror universe in which Spock has a beard. I say this because the above descriptions of the policy changes are taken directly from an e-mail from Dean Egley in which he says he is "very disappointed" with the decisions to retain these protections for students—protections that a normal American would expect all public university students to have as a matter of course. (After all, the right to due process of law is contained in the Bill of Rights!) In fact, Egley's so angry about these changes, he doesn't want anything to do with Chapter 17 ever again!
To be precise, Egley writes:
I am very disappointed in a significant number of changes to the proposals to revise UWS Chapter 17 that have developed in the weeks since we met in River Falls .... I have indicated to my supervisor, to the task force chair and most members of the task force that I now have no interest in serving on any future task force formed to update and revise Chapter 17... Overall, I feel that a very high price will be paid through a much more legalistic code of conduct for students, in order to gain a clear statement regarding off-campus jurisdiction of the university for student misconduct.
Let's take a closer look: Dean Egley does not want students accused of a crime to have access to a lawyer at a university hearing. He thinks the university should have unlimited jurisdiction over things students do that have nothing to do with the university and don't take place on campus. He doesn't like that students can ask for a panel to hear their cases rather than a lone, possibly biased, hearing examiner. He doesn't want students to be able to appeal possibly unjust decisions to the Board of Regents. He thinks it's too big a hassle to send students a paper letter outlining their offenses, and he doesn't like that the university has disclaimed any intent to violate constitutional rights.
Dean Egley's e-mail decrying these changes doesn't even indicate why they are so bad, other than to say "I feel that a very high price will be paid through a much more legalistic code of conduct for students." How the requirements to mail someone a letter or let them have a hearing committee will cause a "high price" to be paid is anyone's guess. Indeed, Egley's objections to these extremely sensible rules only make sense when you consider that the rules limit the amount of arbitrary and unquestioned authority over students' lives that can be wielded by administrators like—guess who?—Dean Egley.
Alas, Dean Egley's ire is not directed solely against his own students' rights. He can't stand FIRE either! For instance, Egley writes in his e-mail that he can't understand why the university would add language indicating that nothing in its policies is intended to violate the constitutions of the United States or Wisconsin, saying that should be obvious. He's right—it should be, but all too often it isn't. What is bizarre is that he believes that language was added because "F.I.R.E. was in need of having a bone thrown in their direction."
First, it's telling that even Dean Egley understands that we're on the side of the Constitution, and that by implication, he is not. Second, Egley is factually wrong. FIRE never asked for such language (although we always ask that the Constitution be respected). Third, FIRE is completely uninterested in having a "bone" thrown in our direction—because in far too many cases, these disclaimers aren't worth anything. We have never been satisfied with "savings clause" situations in which a school promulgates unconstitutional regulations and then at the end says "but nothing can violate the Constitution," since students are not likely to be able to determine what rules do and do not violate the Constitution. If Wisconsin's regulations do violate the First Amendment, we will not leave them alone simply because the University of Wisconsin says it does not want to violate the Constitution.
Egley even sees fit to end his e-mail with one last gratuitous shot at FIRE: "p.s. If United Council or the F.I.R.E. issue self-congratulatory publicity about winning the battle for student rights, I'm pretty sure that I will need to be peeled of [sic] the ceiling and then placed in restraints! ;-D"
Well, I advise that UW-Platteville get the Dean Egley peelers out and start using them. We're glad we won this battle for student rights at Wisconsin, and we hope Egley sticks to his word that he now has "no interest in serving on any future task force formed to update and revise Chapter 17." That's a big relief for us and a boon to the students of the University of Wisconsin.