Student Newspaper at University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh Condemns Misconduct Policy Revisions
October 10, 2008
by Luke Sheahan
The Advance-Titan, the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, has joined the fray condemning the student misconduct policy revisions proposed by the University of Wisconsin (UW) System Board of Regents. The editorial reports and agrees with the concerns of the Oshkosh Student Association (OSA) that largely reiterate the objections to the policy's lack of due process, vagueness, and jurisdictional overbreadth already voiced by UW–Madison professor Don Downs and the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights (CAFAR) at the University of Wisconsin, the Badger Herald editorial board, and at least one Badger Herald columnist. The Advance-Titan writes,
In [the] letter from OSA they point out that, "There are also many word changes such as changing the word "shall" to "may" that we feel erodes the requirement of administrators to prove or develop comprehensive cases against individuals."
Accompanying this is the "reprehensible word alteration" that occurs by "changing out 'evidence' with 'information.'" Information would allow hearsay to be considered viable evidence, which would not stand up in courts in the real world.
OSA rightly said: "The committee can not completely, nor realistically know how these vague rules will be applied in future contexts." None of us as students can know the whims that will make these new revisions practiced, and the result is an ambiguity that is effectively used as a fear-inspiring deterrent. Knowing that hearsay about your conduct could possibly endanger your schooling is a means of threatening students. Combine that with hearings that might suspend you from school, anywhere up to 21 days, could cripple someone academically.
In addition to due process concerns, the editorial brings attention to the policy's potential to stifle the free speech rights of students:
Say for example, that you find something objectionable about the university and organize a protest of it that steps over some legal bound that the police find. Since your protest may have hurt the university's image, it has a "substantial interest" in making the rest of your academic life a living hell. With the revised conduct code, it gives them authority to do so via expulsion, academic suspension or otherwise.
The Advance-Titan's concerns are justified. FIRE has seen time and time again where university administrators have too much power, through overbroad and vague policies, to capriciously punish students for constitutionally protected expression. As the OSA letter says, "We view many of the recommended changes as purposefully allowing the erosion of individual rights through the careful crafting of blurred and indecisive rules." The revisions are currently under review by the Wisconsin Legislative Council.