New Due Process Rules Finally Hit University of Wisconsin

By September 10, 2009

As of September 1, revisions to UWS 17, which governs the on- and off-campus behavior of students in the University of Wisconsin System (UWS), have taken effect. As Torch readers may remember, FIRE played an active role in the revision process, particularly when it became known that proposed revisions to the conduct code severely limited the due process rights of UW students. Adam quickly embarked on a speaking tour of the UW system and made FIRE’s case directly to Regents in a public meeting. With the help of FIRE and a host of committed UW students, many of these rights were restored in the version that was ultimately adopted.

At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC), as reported by its student paper The Spectator, the assumption among administrators is that it will be more or less business as usual. Associate Dean of Students Jodi Thesing-Ritter flatly states, “I don’t think anything I do will change as a result of this code.” She notes late in the article that only a handful of UWEC students are disciplined each year and that only one has been expelled in the past five years.

Thesing-Ritter’s assessment aside, we generally have heard that students across the UWS are content enough with the result. Though not perfect, it gives them ample tools to use in their defense, should they ever need them:

“I’m very pleased. The changes and now-final Chapter 17 has definitely been a compromise between the two extremes,” [UWEC Student Body President Michael] Umhoefer said, adding that the compromise is a “perfect example” of student and System collaboration.

[Former student senator Aaron] Brewster said the final draft is an improvement, but is not perfect.

In March, Brewster spoke against the Board of Regents’ initial proposed Ch. 17 revisions at their public hearing in Milwaukee.

“It is a compromise, but at the same time,” Brewster said, “there are things that shouldn’t be compromised, like student rights. I still think it could be used to target individual students, I just don’t think it would be as easy.”

Hopefully this won’t happen at all, even though a key point of the revisions was to make it possible for certain off-campus activities to be punishable by UWS universities. Regardless, FIRE is pleased that the system’s 175,000-plus students now have the option of, for example, nearly full attorney representation when faced with serious charges. Thesing-Ritter comments to The Spectator that “UW-Eau Claire’s policy has always been to encourage students to speak on their own behalf for ‘developmental’ growth.” (This was a point of contention because full attorney representation would permit students to defer all questions to the attorney.) Students will rightly wonder what exactly is “developmental” about being in an adversarial environment without full representation when facing a charge serious enough to affect the rest of their education and future career. Still, UW students probably should be thankful for the protections they now have, which FIRE helped preserve.

Schools: University of Wisconsin System University of Wisconsin – Madison Cases: University of Wisconsin: Students’ Due Process Rights