Penal offices retitled

Ryan Brown, Managing Editor

What’s in a name?

Ask Jake Harper, who finished the spring semester as Judicial Affairs coordinator but returned in August as Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution coordinator.

His office, long responsible for meting out punishment to misbehaving students, received a name change as part of its three-year transformation to what Harper described as “an outlet for interpersonal issues.”

“The evolution of this office has changed it dramatically,” Harper said. “But I would never say we’re in the final stage. That sounds very lofty of me.”

Campus statistics indicate the change so far has been sweeping, with internal citations for alcohol use increasing 260 percent from 2007 to 2009. Criminal arrests related to alcohol, on the other hand, dropped more than 90 percent in the same period.

This year’s student code of conduct was rewritten, in part, to reflect the office’s new name and image and details the university’s mission to educate students rather than punish or expel them.

And while the judicial process – now called “resolution” – is largely the same on paper, Harper said a reworked hearing system will afford accused students more opportunities to defend themselves and appeal rulings to a higher office.

A 12-member hearing board, made up of students trained and paid to serve in tribunals, is to hear cases and offer both rulings and sentencing recommendations.

The board has existed for years, but their $15-per-case wage and three-day training sessions mark a new professionalism that is reflected, Harper said, in their matching uniforms: gray “Conflict Resolution” polo shirts and khaki pants.

“They can do their jobs now, even without me,” Harper said, adding that their training has been tested in at least one case to date.

And while Harper’s staff has made an effort to demystify the system with an upcoming video series on the hearing process, the meetings remain closed to the public and ultimately remain in administrators’ hands, as the hearing board does not have the power to make a final decision.

All board rulings are considered recommendations to Student Affairs Vice President Jon Wescott, who issues the final decision on both guilt and reprimand.

And the small handful who successfully appeal Wescott’s decision move to Academic Affairs Vice President Janet Grady, who, while usually responsible for academic issues, also holds the power to dictate judicial rulings.

“Nobody appeals her decision,” Harper said. “You have to go through four locked gates to get to her.”

Few cases are expected to reach Grady’s desk, with fewer than 20 making it to the hearing board in a given year. Most of these are cases in which long-term suspension or dismissal are likely outcomes, Harper said.

Students’ influence over judicial policy has shifted alongside the office’s image. The senate’s judicial committee, established last year on an ad-hoc basis by now-graduated senator Dave Komoroski, is no longer organized as a full committee.

A senate vote scheduled for Monday was set to re-establish the group under a new, less-judicial title: Student Policies Committee. The prospective committee, according to Senator Christian Woo, would carry a broader oversight role than its predecessor.

Despite the new name and image, some students said they’re skeptical until they see changes firsthand.

“It’s not friendlier,” senior Lucy Konuwa said.

“Everyone still knows they’re gonna get in trouble.”