Controversial Conduct Hearing Goes Public

Taryn Erhardt/Staff

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Public Hearing for Laura Zelko

A public hearing was held on October 27th with the Office of Student Conduct for Laura Zelko who went on trial for the November 18th Capital Projects building sit-in and the November 20th Wheeler takeover from 2009.

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Photo: Laura Zelko, below left, had a public conduct hearing on Wednesday for her involvement in November protests. The faculty, staff and student panel at the hearing talks above.    

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The second conduct hearing this semester for a student involved in campus protests last November continued from afternoon into the evening Wednesday and was surrounded by controversy regarding the nature of UC Berkeley's conduct procedures.

The public hearing was held for junior Laura Zelko, who faces five Code of Student Conduct violations for her involvement in a Nov. 18 demonstration and the Nov. 20 Wheeler Hall occupation, though at the hearing she claimed no responsibility for the charges.

Zelko had requested her hearing to be public so that the process would be more transparent, according to her advisor Carmen Comsti, a UC Berkeley School of Law student and a member of Campus Rights Project which has been advising those facing charges.

"The significance of the public hearing would be that it's a way to bring to light all the procedural abuses and violations of students' rights that students have experienced for almost an entire year now, and this is the first time that the public has been able to see it," said Sean Graham, a law student and member of the Campus Rights Project.

Comsti said the first student to have a hearing in September requested an open hearing but was told his hearing would be consolidated with other students charged with misconduct last November if it were open, so he chose it to be private.

According to Christina Gonzales, associate dean of students, the panel chair of each hearing has the right to decide whether to grant a student's request to make the hearing open or to keep it private, which it is by default.

At the beginning of the hearing, Zelko asked the panel of five not to proceed, calling it "unfair" 11 months after the incident. Although the chair of the panel, math professor Paul Vojta, said "it sucks" that delays had pushed back the hearing date this far, the hearing proceeded.

Though the code states hearings are to be held 45 days after initial charges, this policy was suspended last year in response to campus-wide budget cuts and furloughs which reduced the office's ability to process cases, according to campus officials. Gonzales said the 45-day timeline is back in place for new conduct violation cases this year.

Graham said the charges should be dropped because of the timeline's suspension, adding that he thinks the Office of Student Conduct is "using the student disciplinary process as a means of repressing student activism."

Vojta said Zelko could write her objection to the hearing in a letter to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande if she chooses to appeal later.

No detailed plans have been made for the future hearings of other students involved in the demonstrations last November, which Gonzales said is "hard to do" because of difficulties with scheduling members of the panel.

As of press time, the hearing had not ended and no conclusion had been reached on Zelko's case.

Samantha Strimling of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Mary Susman at [email protected]

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