UW Regents consider conduct code changes

May 6, 2009

University of Wisconsin System students facing charges of misconduct could have lawyers represent them at disciplinary hearings under a change praised by student advocates but opposed by some deans of students.

The UW System has spent two years considering changes to its student code of conduct, including giving universities the authority for the first time to punish students for off-campus, nonacademic misconduct.

The system announced several revisions to the proposal last week after student leaders, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and others complained an earlier plan went too far.

The UW System Board of Regents is expected to approve the code changes at a meeting at UW-Milwaukee on Friday. Milwaukee residents and some near other campuses want the university to use the code to crack down on rowdy students.

The changes introduced last week require "serious and repeated" municipal violations before universities can act against students. They also allow students to have lawyers speak on their behalf at disciplinary hearings, which had been a major point of contention between students and university officials.

Students had said they deserve legal representation when accused of misconduct, but some university officials feared having lawyers involved would make the system too adversarial and less educational.

Other revisions allow students to appeal punishment to the Board of Regents and to have cases heard by a committee instead of a hearing examiner. Finally, the system added a statement saying nothing in the code restricts students’ constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.

Among those upset with the changes is Richard Egley, dean of students at UW-Platteville. He fired off an e-mail to colleagues Saturday criticizing the revisions.

"Overall, I feel that a very high price will be paid through a much more legalistic code of conduct for students," Egley wrote.

Egley served on committee that spent months considering the changes. He told his supervisor he will never do so again.

Egley, who has worked for 30 years at UW-Platteville, said he didn’t know who was responsible for the changes; was upset his committee’s position was not respected; and wondered why a public university would need to make clear that it was not violating constitutional rights.

"Perhaps the FIRE was in need of having a bone thrown in their direction," he wrote, referring to the Philadelphia-based free speech group that sought the revisions.

FIRE and the United Council of UW Students, which also lobbied for the changes, praised them Tuesday. Adam Kissel of FIRE called them "a victory for students’ due process rights in Wisconsin."

Kissel sent a letter detailing his concerns to the regents and testified at a public hearing in Milwaukee in March. He said the earlier proposal was unfair to students accused of misconduct and opened the system up to lawsuits based on violations of due process rights.

The United Council of UW Students, which lobbies for the system’s students, was worried that some chancellors would use the code to punish students they did not like or for trivial violations, university affairs director Mike Moscicke said. He said the changes address all the group’s major concerns.

The changes are the first major rewrite of the conduct code since 1996. If approved by regents, lawmakers will have a chance to object to the proposed rules, which are expected to go into effect before next fall.

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