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Senate previews changes to Chapters 17, 18

February 26, 2009

The UW System Board of Regents is in the process of reviewing Chapters 17 and 18. The chapters are part of the UW System administrative code; Chapter 17 outlines the student nonacademic disciplinary procedures and Chapter 18 details conduct violations and sanctions on University lands.

The Board of Regents has proposed updating the code, allowing provisions for UW System universities to issue sanctions to students for nonacademic violations that occur off campus. According to the Regents, the geographic boundaries for University sanctionable violations is limitless, meaning that an infraction anywhere on the globe could conceivably result in University action.

The UW-River Falls Student Senate dedicated the first hour of their Feb. 24 meeting to a preliminary discussion previewing the proposed changes to the two chapters. Sen. Matthew Dale led the discussion, stating forthright that he did not agree with the proposed changes. He went on to say that his personal beliefs would not influence his report of the situation, nor would it lead him to ignore the conversation from those in agreement with the changes.

Dale began his presentation by explaining the history of the proposal. UW-Milwaukee has had a large number of community complaints involving municipal violations towards UWM students who live off campus. The bulk of these complaints were noise related. UWM began to feel pressure from community members to punish the students somehow.

The Board, who Dale described as the “supreme power of academic decisions,” was not able to offer any support. Chapters 17 and 18 allow for no explicit powers off campus.

“These rules shall regulate conduct on all lands subject to the control of the board of regents of the university of Wisconsin system,” according to the policy statement of Chapter 18.

Chapter 17 follows the same principle, stating that all students and faculty of a university are subject to that university’s disciplinary procedures for violations only on university property.

According to Dale, there is a lot of student concern that the University has no business punishing off-campus violations. Proponents of the changes claim that they are needed to regulate student to student interactions and bring sentencing against those interactions that involve harassment. Opponents say that off campus sanctions should be handled by the police, not school administrators.

Guest Benjamin Plunkett expressed his concern at the meeting over school administrators becoming police.

“I’m no expert on the subject, but isn’t there a governmental body in charge of dealing with the disciplinary actions involving crimes in this country?” Pluenkett asked.

“I believe that would be the criminal court system, Ben,” Dale said.

Plunkett went on to express his belief that the court system is fair and it works, and that he would only trust those violations investigated by trained police and ruled on by professional lawyers and judges, not school administrators.

Dale is forming an ad hoc committee to address the proposed changes. The committee is planning on hosting an open listening session in which any members of UWRF can come and voice their opinions, either for or against. The meeting is slated for sometime in March, but an exact date has yet to be determined.

Dale also said that the Board of Regents is hosting a listening session revolving around the Chapters on March 5. He urged his fellow senators to spread the word and try and convince as many people as possible to journey to Madison to speak at that open forum.

“It is extremely important that students from UWRF be heard in front of the Board of Regents,” Dale said.

Fielding several Senators’ questions regarding the impact of this power being given to the University, Dale said he wanted to stress that he did not feel that UWRF wanted to abuse this power if it were to pass.

“There has been no major movement at UWRF to implement an extreme form of 17 and 18 and punish all municipal violations. No one in administration has even remotely hinted at this,” Dale said. “The relationship between students and faculty on this campus is quite good.”

A reoccurring concern brought up by the Senate was how vague the proposed revisions to the code are. According to Dale, the changes have been left purposely vague so each UW campus can mold the rules to fit their individual campus.

Dale responded to his peer’s concerns. He said that although he did not believe the current administration would purposely try to hurt students with the new power, it is impossible to predict what future staffs would do.

“There could be unintended consequences,” Dale said. “These rules are only revised every 10 years, so whatever changes are made we will have to live with for a very long time.”