Stop SUNY Potsdam's Abuse of Student Rights
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Many students that go through SUNY Potsdam’s Office of Student Conduct get treated unfairly. They lack many basic procedural protections normal institutions possess. Numerous follies from within this office have been chalked up to a mistake, misinterpretation, or a misunderstanding. I seek to improve the judicial hearing process at SUNY Potsdam. The overall process (pre-hearing and hearing) is unfair to students, many of whom do not fully understand the gravity of the situation they are in or the rights they possess. Young students, many living on their own for the first time, are extremely vulnerable to manipulation, and pressure tactics from within the Office of Student Conduct. Students are susceptible to these tactics, because they are frequently misinformed of their rights, and the process.
Here is a simple list of suggested reforms:
1) Make the procedures, evidence and due process standards readily accessible to students. They should be readily accessible for students online, and distributed physically to those accused of any allegations.
2) Encourage for a student’s advocates to speak on that student’s behalf, and make sure students are aware (by informing them in writing) that they are allowed to have advocates, to collect evidence in their defense, and should take time to consider their options. Many students feel pressured to make a deal, because they are unaware of other options.
3) Create and promulgate a standard of evidence to determine if students are responsible for alleged violations. Currently there seems to be no standard, allowing rumors, and hearsay to be allowed in these proceedings. The current system is supposed to use a "preponderance of evidence,” what most likely happened, or 51% of the evidence. Title IX requires this standard for offenses of sexual misconduct, however a stricter standard should be applied to other offenses. This standard does not protect students. A standard of evidence that would require "clear and convincing evidence" would be a significant improvement.
4) Ensure when a student is accused of a violation of the Code of Conduct that is also a criminal offense the case is handled by SUNY Police. They are more qualified for handling these situations, and collect evidence. The college could elect to have the SUNY Police Department play a more active role in student judicial procedures.
5) Modify the hearing process to specify that the officials of the college who are making the allegations are not also running the hearing. This will put the oversight of each hearing into the hands of the more nonpartisan hearing board. Hearing officers should not be selected from within the Office of Student Conduct.
6) Require further documentation of witness testimony when the Office of Student Conduct first makes contact. Statements should be taken, and written by each individual that has something to say on each matter during their initial interaction with the office. These statements should not be written by an employee of the Office of Student conduct. This will avoid any misrepresentation, and paraphrasing of testimonial evidence.
7) Require that all witnesses can also be questioned by the defense. Witnesses that would like to testify should be present at hearings, unless they are in severe emotional, and/or physical danger. If necessary other arrangements should be made to allow them to be questioned by the accused.
8) Create a distinction between off campus, and on campus. Off-campus incidents should not be considered to be under SUNY Potsdam's jurisdiction unless the student is engaged in an activity in which they are actively representing the school, such as when a geology major is on a class trip or a basketball player is at an away game.
Harvard University applies their policies to “students, faculty, staff, Harvard appointees, or third parties, whenever the misconduct occurs:
1. On Harvard property; or
2. Off Harvard property, if:
a) the conduct was in connection with a University or University-recognized program or activity; or
b) the conduct may have the effect of creating a hostile environment for a member of the University community.”
9)Revise the Code of Conduct to make it less vague, and more specific.
10) Revise the zero tolerance fighting policy to exclude self-defense as a violation.
11) Create the ability for the President's office (or its designee) to review the entire administrative process and the ability to reverse a finding of responsibility or dismiss charges brought against a student based upon their review of the administrative proceedings. This would create greater oversight over the actions taken by the Office of Student Conduct.
President Esterberg, I urge you to take action on this matter.
All the best,
State University of New York at Potsdam, Class of 2015
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