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Revisions to University policies may lead to student fines off campus

October 23, 2008

Beginning fall semester 2009, Public Safety will have the option to fine and penalize students for their off-campus behavior if the final revisions of Chapter 17 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code is passed by the UW System Board of Regents.

The issues discussed in Chapter 17 concentrate on regulating non-academic conduct, establishing rules and formatting consequences for UW students.

According to Matthew Dale, legislative affairs director of the Student Senate, Chapter 17 deals with underage drinking, assault, disorderly conduct and similar charges.

The chapter currently states, “The university has a responsibility to identify basic standards of nonacademic conduct necessary to protect the community…any person who violates state or federal laws on university property may face prosecution in the appropriate courts.”

The changes currently being revised would alter the chapter by allowing a university to prosecute a student who violates state or federal laws on or off university property. The current chapter only allows the University jurisdiction over its own property.

The UW System Board of Regents, an 18-member board that sets admission standards, reviews and approves university budgets for all UW schools, is reviewing the chapter.

The Board of Regents’ revision process includes updating documents, making alterations due to new technology, editing the present chapter and making any necessary changes in hopes of maintaining orderly UW campuses.

“I think that this is a standard thing that we would look at regularly. It is protocol to revise eight to 10 years, and it’s been, I believe, 13 years since the last revision,” Colleen Thomas, a senior at UW-Madison and student member of the Board, said. “So as a regent, the Board is simply attending to the code and updating and responding to campus needs.”

Therefore, once the Board of Regents passes the alterations, the UW campuses will have no choice but to obey the permanent changes for an extensive period of time.

Chapter 17 has become an issue because UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison have had problems with rowdy off-campus parties, disorderly conduct charges and a lack of control over students once they leave campus, Thomas said.

“The neighborhood and the residents in the neighborhood have expressed some extreme discontent with students in their neighborhood and [the Board of Regents] are really worried how the students have impacted their way of life. They are feeling less safe than in the past,” Thomas said. “The system of legal is starting to say that maybe we need a more strict policy on this.”

According to Dale, a majority of the Board of Regents believe that one option in controlling this intolerable behavior from students off-campus is to have the illegal behavior also affect the students once they return to the University.

The possible alterations will allow Public Safety to be notified of any charges a student receives, whether on-campus or off-campus.

Once Public Safety is notified of the specific charge, the officer will then evaluate the charge based on three determining guidelines.

The officer will determine if it is a serious or criminal offensive, if the individual was committing a health or safety risk to self or others and if it threatens the teaching, researching or public criteria of the University. 

The possible guidelines Public Safety is currently provided with does not give specific limits and behavior that the University will allow and not allow.

“Because it’s so vague and since there aren’t strict guidelines, it could be used against petitions and other minor situations,” Dale said.

The changes are to protect the students, but the frustration of possibly losing freedom outside the campus is gaining attention throughout Wisconsin campuses, Dale said.

“Anything they do that is against University policy and could be punished by the University. Out of town, out of state, even out of the country. You still can be charged,” he said.

Tara Straub, a sophomore at UW-River Falls expressed her concern toward the revisions.

“That makes me feel like I can never really leave campus. I just don’t see how it’s fair for a university to punish me for something I committed nowhere near the campus,” Straub said.

Contrary to the concerns of a few students, a majority of the board expressed their support at the October Board of Regents meeting.

“I think that it’s quite likely that some form of the revisions will be passed and be set for fall,” Thomas said.

The Board of Regents have expressed their concern for the current off-campus problems, yet they are skilled and well-educated professionals working towards the safety of students and citizens within the town, she said.

“They understand rights, they worry about abuse power and are concerned of any circumstance on the language. The revisions are appropriate and I think as we go forward we will hear from those regents,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the revisions discussed at the last Board of Regents meeting have been submitted to the draft office at the State Legislature, where professionals will revise legal errors and make sure the law is written accurately.

“Once the draft comes back to the board, the board will conduct a large debate in March,” Thomas said.

Students are able to attend the Board of Regents meeting in March to voice any of their opinions or concerns towards the Chapter revision.