By Jarod Golub
University of Maryland students could lose some of their access to legal representation in certain Office of Student Conduct disciplinary cases in 2018.
The University Senate voted to implement a revised Code of Student Conduct at their monthly meeting on Thursday, Dec. 7.
The new code — pending approval from University President Wallace Loh — elaborated on which actions specifically fall under Prohibited Content, lowered the standard of evidence needed and rewrote much of the original language of the code.
Revisions to the code also included “[breaking it] up into three different sections: an introduction and students’ rights and responsibilities, prohibited conduct and the process,” according to Director of Student Conduct Andrea Goodwin.
The changes that met with the biggest backlash from the Senate, however, were the ones involving the role of lawyers in student disciplinary cases.
“I think when students are essentially on trial they need to have a reasonable, standard due process…” Senator Edward Priola said. “They should have somebody on their side defending them, especially when they have serious accusations that could go on their permanent record.”
Lawyers can still be involved in the process: they are allowed to write appeals and go over documents, but they cannot speak on behalf of a student.
“Some of the confusion might be because people think we are taking a right away from the students by reducing the role of the attorneys,” University Senator Andrea Dragan said. “But we really see it as leveling the playing field because they are still allowed to be there, it’s just allowing the student to learn the skill of speaking for themselves and seeing this as an educational process and not a court of law.”
Dragan, the chair of the Student Conduct Committee — the Senate Committee tasked with changing the code — has been working with her committee and the Senate Executive Committee since September 2016 to rewrite the document.
“The Code of Student Conduct hadn’t been revised in full in over 30 years,” Dragan said. “There have been some minor changes made along the way, but never a complete overhaul until now.”
The changes to the code’s language, on the other hand, got a lot more support from both students and faculty.
“I really like the more comprehensible language,” senior communications major Abby Adams said. “I think that every student should be able to understand the rules that they have to abide by… what that means and what’s backing them up and how they can stand up for themselves.”
“I’m a big fan of the recodified language,” Priola said, despite his disagreement with the new policy on lawyers. “I think it will help students know where the lines are drawn and what kinds of defense they can put forward in different situations.”
Major changes in the code’s language included removing many unnecessary sections involving legal descriptions and overall better explanations of the process and the rights of the student.
“One of the first things that we did was get rid of the legal language,” Dragan said. “There were these annotations in there that referenced court cases from the 80’s and 90’s, and we are trying to emphasize that this is an educational and administrative hearing, not a legal proceeding, so we decided those had to go.”
Goodwin said changing the code isn’t about influencing students’ actions but making the rules more accessible to students.
“I don’t think anybody’s behavior is going to change as a result of this, it’s not like we have new violations that weren’t violations last week,” Goodwin said. “But I think doing some more educational campaigns around student conduct is really important and now we will have a code we can refer back to that students can understand.”
Photo Courtesy of the University of Maryland Senate Office