Students challenge conduct code changes, rally for new revisions

Imagine witnessing two students brawling on the mall late one night, possibly intoxicated, as you’re walking home. Of course you didn’t notify authorities — you didn’t want to get involved and could have been injured yourself by the belligerent students, but according to proposed university policy changes, you could be in trouble. As stated in the proposed bystanding clause of the student code of conduct, students must report activity that they witness which “could result in serious injury to a person,” a categorization that would include the aforementioned scenario. This is one example of the several revisions to the MSU student code of conduct, which has become a controversial topic among students and faculty.

 

Drafting the Revisions:

The student code of conduct is the set of rules that MSU students must abide by. Upon enrollment, all students agree in writing to follow the student code of conduct. MSU has the jurisdiction to enforce the rules outlined in the code, doing so within a defined set of judicial proceedings and punishments through the dean of students office.

Dean of Students Matt Caires said that the revisions came after reviewing a wiki database of other university’s conduct codes and noticing areas where MSU’s own code could be improved. This wiki was created by various college administrators to be used as a guide for revising conduct codes and allows for collaboration on the topic between colleges and universities around the country. According to Caires, the earliest drafts of the new code of conduct utilized much of the wording that exists in the wiki database.

Students have voiced concerns regarding the list of changes to the student code of conduct, which gained widespread attention in early January. Changes have been brought before various student constituency groups for input and have undergone thorough revisions in past months. Despite input from ASMSU and Interhall Residence Hall Association (IRHA), students have expressed distaste with the revisions on social media, sparking controversy on the anonymous Facebook group Montana State Confessions.

Revisions to the code include new definitions for when a student is under jurisdiction of the university, as well as numerous language changes to clarify the meaning of the conduct code have been proposed. New additions to the code include a “bystanding” clause which requires students to report serious violations that they witness and a clause requiring students to report any arrest by a law enforcement agency within 72 hours, amongst others. Since the early stages of the drafting process many new versions of the code have been released to the public for comment, with the most recent, and potentially final draft released on Feb. 5.

 

Reactions to the revisions:

Arleigh Macon, a freshman in the college of business, said that the requirement to report an arrest may violate Montana law despite its most recent revision. Macon stated, “The school can’t take away our right to due process because of Montana Code 20-25-511. The requirement to report an arrest forces students to incriminate themselves.” The aforementioned code disallows universities or colleges in the state from requiring students to sign any contract that would “waive the student’s right to privacy and due process of law.”

 

One of the earlier additions to the code that has since been removed was the clause that allowed for degree revocation. It read: “If serious misconduct was committed while the student was enrolled but reported after the accused student has graduated or withdrawn, the University may invoke these procedures. Should the former student be found responsible, the University may impose sanctions and/or revoke that student’s degree.”

One business marketing sophomore, Chris Godwin, expressed his discontent with the new addition to the code before it was taken out. “The school shouldn’t have the power to take away our degrees after graduation for such vague reasons. We work far too hard and pay too much money to face that risk,” he said.

Dillon Haskell, ASMSU senator for the College of Business, stated that some of the wording in the additions to the code should be more specific. He said that the degree revocation section was mostly aimed at students who commit acts of academic dishonesty during their time at MSU, something that he did not think was as clear as it should be in the code of conduct. “I think maybe that needs to be more specific. I definitely don’t believe you should lose your degree if you’ve already filled all of the requirements.” Because of the opposition from various student groups regarding the degree revocation clause, it was removed from the newest conduct code.

 

Administrator response:

Caires argued that the restrictions are not made to give the university overreaching power, but rather to ensure that it can punish students who are detrimental to the MSU community. He gave an example related to the new bystanding clause, saying that the university is not trying to punish students for minor offenses such as those related to alcohol, later explaining that the new rule is more for instances such as a gang rape where bystanders do not report the incident to the proper authorities.

Caires has been heavily involved in drafting the various revisions to the code and said he has worked closely with students during the process. While the first iterations of changes came from the conduct codes of other universities, adjustments have been made to align with MSU student needs. ASMSU provided the bulk of the input to the dean’s office during revisions. Caires said of his collaboration with ASMSU, “We basically gave student senate everything they wanted … We changed the draft to incorporate all of their feedback.”

 

Student input in revisions:

Joshua Soares, ASMSU senator for the college of engineering, said that while the wording of some sections may seem vague, precedents have been set in MSU judicial proceedings. He said of the sanctioning process, “It’s not one decision by one person based on whatever he’s feeling like doing that day,” something Soares thinks students should be aware of.

According to ASMSU President Destini French, ASMSU senators have drafted a Student Bill of Rights as a response to the student code of conduct revisions. “The senators wanted to create something to tell students what they can do … Students are always being told what they can’t do so it is encouraging to have something that tells them their rights,” French said.

IRHA has worked to inform students of the code of conduct changes. IRHA President Tannur Oakes received an early copy of of the revisions in September. At first, Oakes was told by administrators not to spread the word about the changes too quickly. “Some people higher up than me said, ‘Don’t make this public, we’re waiting for the dean of students office to make it public,’” Oakes said.

Starting slowly in November, informing the student body of the revisions became a serious concern of Oakes’ and IRHA in early January. “After break I started making sure my constituents were informed,” he said. As information circulated, students stated concerns about the revisions via various outlets. The anonymous post on the Facebook page MSU Confessions about the revisions led to the issue receiving more student attention. While the statement was not entirely accurate, Oakes commended the use of the page to raise awareness amongst the student body. “I think it got people to look into it. Some of the things on confessions weren’t accurate but I can’t fault [the poster] because the embellishments made students read the revisions,” he said.

 

What’s next?

The most recent revisions have cleared up ambiguities. The proposed code of conduct now defines bystanding as proscribed conduct only when the conduct “could result in serious injury to a person, including sexual misconduct,” or is the “conduct of an organized group that encourages, assists or fails to take reasonable actions to prevent or stop conduct that could result in serious injury to a person, including sexual misconduct.”

Caires stands by these proposed rule changes, especially in the most recently released form, and said that the new sections, not the old, are where students should focus. “What we’re asking the students to really talk about and understand is that we’re adding new things … what [we will] debate are these new things,” Caires said.

Oakes believes that the most recent copy should address most if not all of the concerns students previously had. When asked how much work was left on the code, Oakes replied confidently, “It’s basically fixed.”

Because of concerns students have raised over the past few weeks, the university has decided to extend voting on the new code of conduct again, having first planned to vote at the end of last semester. University Council, which includes a seat for the ASMSU president, will vote on the revisions at their meeting on March 4, one month after the previously set date of Feb. 4.

Students who wish to learn more about the code of conduct revisions can attend the University Council meeting on March 4, at 8:30 a.m. in SUB 233.

 

New Additions:

Bystanding : Requires students to report conduct that causes serious harm to others, including sexual misconduct.

Cyberbullying: Repeated and/or aggressive behaviors that intimidate or harm another student physically or emotionally is a violation of the code

Tobacco Use: Allows for conduct code judicial proceedings to be used to punish students who violate the MSU tobacco free campus policy.

Misuse of Wheeled devices: Defines riding wheeled devices inside buildings on campus as proscribed conduct, as well as recklessly riding said devices.

Reporting Arrests: Requires students to report any arrest, on or off campus, when they are charge with a felony offense.

 

Latest Revision:

Degree Revocation: Removed from the conduct code

Off-campus conduct violations: More clearly defined the serious adverse impact the off-campus conduct must have in order for the DOS to charge a student with a conduct violation

Bystanding: Limits the Bystanding provision to conduct that would cause serious injury to a person

Gender inclusivity: Uses more inclusive pronouns (i.e., his/her were eliminated where appropriate).

Reporting Arrests: Specified to reporting felonies only.