College faculty in Bergen oppose proposed code of conduct

January 11, 2008

Faculty at Bergen Community College have balked at a proposed conduct code for students and teachers, calling it unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Many schools include guidelines on civility in student handbooks, but Bergen Community College would be the first in New Jersey to require students to agree to a code. Violators would be subject to school judicial hearings that now handle such matters as assault, The Record of Bergen County reported in Friday newspapers.

A draft of the code would have those at the two-year school promise to “build an inclusive community enriched by diversity” and “respect and assist those individuals who are less fortunate.”

The five-point code would also require a “commitment to civil engagement,” the newspaper reported.

School administrators said the code responds to “uncivil” behavior, including language that demeaned women and minorities.

The college’s president, R. Jeremiah Ryan, had said that acceptance of the code would be mandatory, but this week said the school may ultimately decide to have an “aspirational” statement instead of a code, The Record said.

A mandatory code was opposed by teachers.

“It’s unenforceable. Forget the faculty signing this, Peter Helff, president of the faculty union, told the newspaper.

Courts have rejected such codes. Samantha Harris, spokeswoman for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which supports campus free speech, said, “A public school has no right to reach into students’ minds and tell them what to think.”

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