Dec. 1, 2006

University Assembly meeting on Campus Code of Conduct revisions draws sharp criticisms

Loss of civil liberties, shifting judicial powers to the administration and stripping the code of terms and concepts related to the university's criminal justice system were just a few of the concerns expressed Nov. 29 at the University Assembly's (UA) first public meeting to discuss a revised Campus Code of Conduct. The code defines appropriate behavior and disciplinary actions required when rules are broken.

Specifically, the meeting focused on the April 2006 "Krause Report," which proposes specific revisions to the code. The UA (a governing body of 21 voting members: six undergraduate students, three graduate/professional students, five employees and seven faculty) is gathering feedback from the campus community in order to make recommendations by April 1, 2007, to Cornell President David Skorton (who briefly attended the meeting) for drawing up a new code.

The meeting drew about 50 administrators, faculty, staff and students to Room G10 Biotechnology Building. Many audience members were outspoken in their criticism of the Krause Report (available at http://www.assembly.cornell.edu/CJC/KrauseReport).

Max Henderson, a Cornell graduate student, said he informally represented about 650 students gathered on Facebook (the online social network that connects people at colleges, schools and companies) who sent him criticisms regarding the Krause Report.

Risa Lieberwitz, associate professor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, questioned whether the UA could meet the April review deadline set in Skorton's Nov. 20 letter to the university asking for feedback so he can submit proposed changes to the Cornell Board of Trustees in May 2007.

"The ... letter placed an artificial, predetermined deadline that may or may not be feasible [for the UA]," she said. "So it seems there should be flexibility, time-wise, as needed, to consider the code."

At the meeting, the UA moved to delegate the information-gathering process to its Codes and Judicial Committee (CJC) and that its final report be submitted to the UA no later than March 7, 2007.

In addressing a possible shift of power over the campus code, Marty Hatch, associate professor of music and a UA member for 10 years, said that the CJC should not address every issue raised by the Krause report, "but the basic and main one, which is: Will the system be moved to the administration -- [a] vice president's office -- and be taken away from the UA?"

Among its many other responsibilities, the UA has authority over the Campus Code of Conduct and the Statement of Student Rights.

Andy Cowan, a second-year Cornell law student, said, "Last night the Cornell Law Students Association board voted unanimously to express its deep concern about those changes in the code. … I speak for many of my fellow students when I say that we are disturbed by changes in the code that expand the university's disciplinary power while removing many of the procedures that protect students from false accusations and unfair sanctions."

Elizabeth Sanders, professor of government, said she thought that the amount of work required to examine the report and the entire process itself was demoralizing, "because we are constantly working on the administration's agenda in what often turn out to be bad ideas in the end."