At Cornell, Repressive Reform Proposals Tabled

March 23, 2007

Good news from Ithaca, New York—home of gorges, Professor Vladimir Nabokov, and, most famously, Cornell University.
Diligent Torch readers may remember that this past December, Cornell students and faculty were busy voicing their unhappiness with an official proposal for a dramatic overhaul of the university’s judicial code of conduct. Upon its release last April, the proposal—known as the Krause Report after its author, former Cornell Judicial Administrator Barbara Krause—generated widespread criticism from many corners of the Cornell community because it contained sweeping reductions of the due process and freedom of speech protections presently afforded to Cornell students and faculty. Andy Cowan, a law student and member of the Cornell Law Student Association (CLSA), summarized many of the proposed changes for us here last December. An official CLSA report, authored by the CLSA’s Campus Code Revisions Committee (of which Andy is a member), was released in February and is available here.  
To illustrate the severity of the Krause Report’s proposed revisions, it’s worth reviewing some key changes noted in Andy’s summary:

Free Speech
The current code includes a section on Responsible Speech and Expression, which largely imports the US Supreme Courts [sic] freedom of speech jurisprudence into Cornell policy (note that as a private institution, Cornell is not a state actor bound by the first amendment). The proposed draft largely eliminates this section as unnecessary, replacing it with two sentences indicating a general philosophical commitment to Free Speech at the university.
Procedural Formality
Generally reduced. Instead of hearings there would be “disciplinary conversations” for most offenses. Instead of appeals to a review board, decisions would be reviewable only by a single “conduct review officer” in the Office of Student Conduct. The new code “will require those who find comfort in the current ‘legalities’ [such as the rights to silence and an attorney, and the burden of proof, discussed infra] to find comfort instead in the overall new cast of a disciplinary system whose ultimate goal is to support the educational mission of Cornell University.”
Right to an Attorney
Currently, students accused of misconduct may be advised and represented by any person of their choosing. This can include an attorney, a friend, or the Judicial Codes Counselor. The proposed draft completely eliminates the right to an advocate. The accused student must speak for him or herself, or not at all (but see the right to remain silent, infra.) Accused students will still be permitted an advisor, but only Cornell students, faculty, and staff may serve as advisors. Students who are separately charged with a crime for the same alleged course of conduct will still be permitted their attorneys, but only as advisors, not as advocates.  

As quickly becomes obvious reading the CLSA’s report, ratification of the Krause Report would be a disaster for individual rights on Cornell’s ivied campus.
Fortunately, Andy wrote FIRE yesterday with a positive update on the Report’s progress—or more accurately, the lack thereof. Andy informs us that the Codes and Judicial Committee (CJC) of the University Assembly, the official university body for reviewing and implementing changes to the Campus Code, published its findings on the Krause Report’s proposals earlier this month. Incorporating both public feedback (“[a]n overwhelming majority of community responses to the CJC expressed a fear of losing rights”) and the CLSA’s report, the CJC found the Krause Report to be deeply flawed, and concluded that any revision of the current Campus Code warrants further consideration and deliberation.
As Andy writes:

The Krause Report looks like it’s pretty much a dead letter at this point…. The plan going forward is that having rejected the Krause Report’s major proposals for systemic change, the remaining proposals will be considered in the normal, ponderous committee process. Going through that process, the CJC has chosen not to frame the questions as (for example) “Should we accept or reject the Krause proposal on the sufficiency of evidence,” but rather, “What is our current standard for sufficiency of the evidence, does the current standard work, and if not how should we change it after soliciting input from all affected parties and communities?” In other words, the Krause report will be considered merely as one opinion among many rather than a package to be accepted or rejected. Given the personnel of the committee, I don’t expect to see a whole lot of Krause’s ideas adopted.

We here at FIRE are happy to know that Cornell’s careful system of public comment and committee deliberation seems to have worked admirably in this case. Well-founded concerns expressed by community members about reduced rights have been given the proper hearing they deserve. While this process may take longer, preserving the individual rights of Cornell’s students and faculty is unquestionably worth the wait.

Schools:  Cornell University