There has been great controversy lately over the proposed revisions to the student code of conduct, first proposed on Jan. 26. It’s not surprising when considering the fact that the changes covered significant portions of the code. Some of the proposed changes are slight clarifications of specific phrases, while others create entirely new sections. Although most students have probably never even read a line from the code, every student at MSU is held accountable to it.
The code outlines the numerous possible violations, the sanctions that should be given for those violations and other matters of the sort. Surely every university needs a student code of conduct. There must be something on paper that can act as university law in the inevitable event that students misbehave. However, university law has its place. Namely, the university. Its jurisdiction does not need to extend into events that occur off campus, for those are already covered by city law, state law, and federal law. Yet the proposed changes do exactly that. Through vague wording and nebulous definitions, the proposed changes extend the student code of conduct to apply to students’ behavior off campus.
According to Section C of the revised code, “The code of student conduct applies to behaviors that take place on campus, at university‐sponsored events and may also apply off‐campus when the dean of students or designee determines that the off‐campus conduct affects a substantial university interest.” A “substantial university interest” is then defined in three bullet points. The first says that a substantial university interest includes “Any situation where it appears that the student’s conduct may present a danger or threat to the health or safety of him/herself or others.” What does the code mean by “any situation”? Literally, that could apply to all situations ever, which just seems a little too extreme for a “student” code of conduct.
The philosophy of the code of conduct states that the code is meant to “balance the interests of individual students with the interests of the academic community.” This makes total sense when it comes to maintaining a positive learning environment for all. But how does this apply to students off campus? The code even states that students can be held accountable for their actions during the summer. It’s understandable that the university would want students to be on good behavior during the breaks between enrolled semesters. But this kind of jurisdiction in a student code of conduct is simply too large, or rather unnecessary. It gives the university too much arguing power over the student, especially a student that makes a “violation” while off campus. Young adults that attend MSU are definitely students, but that doesn’t mean they can or should be put under a perpetual “student” label. When students are off campus, they are accountable to city law, state law and federal law. Is it really necessary that they be held accountable to the student code of conduct as well?
Another bullet point defines a “substantial university interest” as, “Any situation that is detrimental to the educational mission and/or interests of the university.” Again this is simply vague. One redeeming value of this section is the fact that it cannot conflict with the rights afforded by the First Amendment. I do not believe that the university would ever attempt to suppress any rights. But I do believe that the wording of this section of the code is extremely vague, which is compounded by the fact that extra-university jurisdiction is unnecessary for a “student” code of conduct.
On the right side of every page in the 19 page proposed revisions, on MSU’s website, there is a column that summarizes the proposed changes for that page. Throughout the code, there are 29 distinct markers in which the change summaries state that something new has been added to the code. In one proposed change there will be 29 additions to the current code? Maybe I’m just too opinionated, but that seems like a lot. Also, there are 18 distinct markers that say “Wordsmithing.” A wordsmith is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a person who works with words.” Of course legislation has always been about wordsmithing and adjusting the scope of proscriptions. But the proposed change in scope of the student code of conduct is unnecessary, and could potentially have a very negative impact on students. Students should definitely be held accountable to the code when they are on campus. But when students are off campus, they should only be held accountable to the mass multitude of laws that most call the judicial system. Aren’t there plenty enough already? The University Council will vote on the proposed revisions on March 4, at 8:30 a.m. in SUB 233.