Student conduct code in revision

In kindergarten the expectations for civility are pretty simple: play nice, raise your hand, wait your turn. But by college, guidelines for civil behavior are more elaborate, covering everything from academic integrity to hazing and harassment.

The Office of Student Conduct is inviting student, faculty and staff comments on a revised student code of conduct slated to go before the Board of Regents on Nov. 17. Informal comments will be accepted through Aug. 28, and a public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 16. The draft can be viewed at www.studentconduct.wsu.edu.

 “We’ve had a well-developed code for some time,” said Lucila Loera, dean of students, but the new code is an attempt to clarify some of the expectations and make the document easier to read.

“It’s really educational in spirit,” she said. “It’s not meant to be punitive.”

Chris Wuthrich, associate director of the Office of Student Conduct, said about 1,000 students had dealings with student conduct officers last year, and about 35 students were involved in official hearings before the conduct board.

While the code attempts to make expectations more transparent, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) continues to protect the privacy of students who run afoul of the code. Under FERPA guidelines, WSU can only inform the accused student of the outcome of a conduct board hearing. The only exception, Wuthrich said, is if a violent crime has been committed, in which case the complainant is also entitled to that information.

The draft is still a work in progress, Wuthrich said, and has already been modified based on student and faculty comments made in the spring.

“We have a variety of needs to serve,” Wuthrich said, and the code attempts to protect as many people as possible while making clear what WSU expects from students.

Mitchell Pickerill, an associate professor of political science, said the current version of the code is an improvement over the original version published in February. Last spring, he raised concerns that the code could be used to punish people for expressing unpopular views. In particular, he objected to the term “offensive” in a section that defined racial or sexual harassment as, in part, “creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” That’s too subjective, he said, and other universities which have gone down that path have run into freedom of speech issues.

“These codes are well-intended,” he said, but universities are unique places where differences of opinions, even opinions that some find offensive, need to be addressed, not stifled.

Loera said there was never an attempt to stifle free speech. “There’s nothing to be won on that,” she said. “It’s a constitutional right.”

But, she said, the code of student conduct is intended to be “a constant communication of our expectations regarding civility.”

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