In last week’s College Council (CC) meeting, the Council approved a new bylaw that will help address disciplinary issues, such as code of conduct violations and hazing, with student groups funded by CC by establishing the Student Organizations Sanctions Committee (SOSC). The bylaw offers a formalized structure for dealing with organizations that have violated the College’s code of conduct or the CC constitution, bylaws or resolutions.
The bylaw stipulates that any student, staff or faculty member can initiate a complaint regarding a student group. The complaint will be brought before the SOSC, which will be composed of the vice president for student organizations and one other CC member, three students at-large and a representative from the Office of Student Life. The SOSC will discuss the case and meet with a representative of the student organization. Depending on the severity of the offense, the SOSC can recommend that either Council take no action, issue a formal warning without punitive consequences, temporarily censure the group, suspend the organization’s charter or revoke the organization’s charter. CC will then vote on the SOSC’s recommendations, with a formal warning requiring a simple majority, censure requiring a super majority of Council and a suspension or revocation of organizational charter requiring the support of three-fourths of the Council.
“In the past, sanctions against a group were discussed in Council, then voted on whenever CC felt ready to discipline the group,” Castro said. “The new committee works in the same way that the Finance Committee works in the sense that we provide the students, CC and at-large, and they provide recommendations by considering the items in front of them while adhering to the provisions set forth in our bylaws.”
The bylaw also makes it clear when the group has a right to appeal the SOSC’s recommendation. Student organizations may directly appeal censures and suspensions, but they do not retain the power of appeal in the case of a revocation of a student organization’s charter.
The SOSC can also recommend that the student organization be referred to the dean of the College, who will then handle the disciplinary proceedings after the referral. The bylaw also states that the dean of the College has the power to veto any disciplinary decision made by the Council and determine the course of action with the student or student organization.
While the possible recommendations that the SOSC can make remain the same as before the bylaw was approved, CC wanted to formalize the process by which disciplinary action is issued. “The provisions stipulated in this new bylaw are not entirely new. In other words, the disciplinary action that Council can take on any student organization remains the same,” Castro said. “What is different is the method in which inquiries regarding student organizations’ actions can be addressed. If anyone on campus believes that an organization has broken rules set forth in the student handbook, College Council Constitution, bylaws or any other governing document, there is now a committee composed of CC members and students at-large that will provide Council a recommendation regarding potentially sanctioning the group.”
CC decided to update its bylaws in response to a desire for greater transparency and accountability in dealing with disciplinary situations. “This addition was prompted by a change in the way the campus will now be addressing issues of hazing,” Castro said. “Council still has the ability to pursue sanctions against a group without going to this new committee. But any issues of hazing, or other items that the deans believe fall within our jurisdiction, will be handled by this committee. This committee provides students on campus an avenue towards a ‘fair trial’ of sorts when they are accused of hazing on campus – similar to the Honor Committee, except that this committee focuses on hazing.”
“College Council had wanted to develop a way to address the particular role they have with student groups and have a process that was transparent and accountable and students could know what to expect,” Dean Bolton said. “College Council has full authority over its funding. So our roles are parallel things in some respects … I see it mostly as additive and not replacing the work we do in our office. I think it’s a great step.”
Bolton and Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, both commended CC’s efforts to provide a transparent and documented process. “From my perspective, it’s another in a line of this great work, over the last couple of years especially, College Council is doing in looking inward at its own policies and structure and ability to address things,” Klass said. “As the number of student groups gets larger and more diverse, they’ve recognized the need for this infrastructure. I just think it’s great initiative that they’ve taken to pull this together, and then working with Ben [Lamb, assistant director for student involvement] and the deans’ office is just the right approach.”
Castro echoed the administration’s sentiments, categorizing the goal of the new bylaw as providing a transparent and formalized process. “By doing this, we’re able to provide more transparency in the process and ensure that groups that are caught hazing on campus have students on the committee that facilitate providing the fairest punishment possible,” he said.