Pres: No need for inquiry investigation of OSC

December 7, 2005

There will be no University investigation of the Office of Student Conduct, which has come under fire for its response to the Hamilton nude photo case, President Amy Gutmann announced yesterday.

Gutmann said that there is "no basis for an investigation" into the office’s handling of the case, which involved a student who took pictures of a couple apparently having sex against a Penn dormitory window. The student, an Engineering junior, then posted the pictures on a University Web site.

The OSC originally said this was against school policy, but eventually dropped all charges against the photographer last week.

Gutmann said Penn is ready to put the controversy in the past.

"The matter is over, and it is best for everyone that it is over," she said.

Alan Charles Kors, a History professor who defended the photographer from the charges before the case was dropped, had called for a University investigation into the OSC.

"I hope, [regardless of what] the University does, that the faculty and the students will investigate the OSC," he said yesterday.

Student-conduct officials declined to comment.

Kors has been highly critical of the office since the controversy broke. He said that it lacks respect for student rights and that the policies the Engineering junior was accused of violating are poorly defined.

He had called the OSC "unfair, capricious and arbitrary."

However, others who have worked closely with the OSC said that they think the office is operating well and is not in need of investigation.

Director of Student Life Fran Walker has served as an adviser to over 150 students going through the disciplinary process and said that her experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.

"I think [OSC officials] are extremely careful and responsible," she said. "I think people on the outside don’t really have any idea of the load that they bear and the quality of the work they do."

Andrew Geier, the Psychology graduate student who originally agreed to represent the photographer, has been as critical of the office as Kors. He has called for a sizable overhaul, including a restaffing.

"They charge a student with something, they bring the student in there and they scare them," he said. "And then they strong-arm you into signing something."

He added that "the police, the prosecution, the judge and the jury are all one office."

Eric Schneider, assistant dean and associate director for academic affairs for the College, said that he that has advised about 25 students during the disciplinary process and has never seen any "strong-arming."

"I’ve always found [OSC officials] to be professional," he said, adding that on only one occasion has he urged a student not to sign the office’s initial proposal for consequences stemming from an infraction.

Schneider acknowledged that a more formal disciplinary process based on a trial system would allow for a clearer statement of student rights and more distinction between prosecuting and judging roles, but he believes the current system works well.

"On the whole, I think the attempt is to have the University deal with disputes in a somewhat less confrontational way," he said.

Schools: University of Pennsylvania