ACLU Says Administration Disregarded Conduct Code in Student Suspension Cases

Photo: Students Angela Miller and Zachary Bowin were accused of attacking Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus house in December. The ACLU has criticized the administration's treatment of the two, saying it has not adhered to the Code of Student Conduct.
Anna Hiatt/File
Students Angela Miller and Zachary Bowin were accused of attacking Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus house in December. The ACLU has criticized the administration's treatment of the two, saying it has not adhered to the Code of Student Conduct.

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UC Berkeley administrators have not adhered to the campus Code of Student Conduct in suspending two students who were accused of attacking Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus residence, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

In a letter sent to Birgeneau and Christopher Kutz, chair of the campus division of the Academic Senate, the ACLU criticized the administration's treatment of students Angela Miller and Zachary Bowin following their Dec. 11 arrest shortly after the attack. In suspending the two students prior to a hearing, campus officials deprived them of the due process guaranteed by the code.

According to the letter, campus officials did not promptly notify Bowin-who has been cleared of all conduct charges-and Miller of the suspensions nor the charges against them. The suspensions were not justified by the conduct panel's determination that the two posed a threat to campus safety.

The letter also states that the evidence against Miller-which consists of a single photograph showing her allegedly holding a torch, a newspaper article detailing her arrest, a police detective's testimony that the detective saw the photograph and Miller's own statements to the student conduct panel-do not constitute a preponderance of evidence against her, as required by the code.

"(The ACLU) wrote the letter because it's very important that the UC takes seriously the constitutional protections that students enjoy before they are subject to discipline," said Julia Mass, an attorney for the ACLU who authored the letter. "The biggest complaints we have are about the way (the code) was implemented here. The code itself does provide for these interim suspensions. Unfortunately, the campus didn't (completely) follow the code."

Mike Smith, campus counsel of the Office of Legal Affairs, declined to comment on Bowin and Miller's cases, citing privacy restrictions.

Stephen Rosenbaum, a lecturer at Boalt Hall School of Law, said in an e-mail he has been working with Bowin and Miller to resolve their cases.

"Zach's case has been dismissed," Rosenbaum said in the e-mail. "While most of Angela's suspension has been lifted, she still is banned from campus except for attending class. I am seeking the dismissal of all charges."

Student conduct panels consist of a faculty member, a staff member and a student, chosen by the Office of Undergraduate Affairs. Mass said the ACLU found fault with the panelists for decisions on suspending the students based on irrelevant factors.

While Bowin's panel noted that he was "an outstanding student" and dismissed charges against him, Miller's panel found she "provided little evidence of positive contributions to the campus community" and upheld Miller's suspension indefinitely, according to the letter.

"Academic performance has no bearing on likelihood to disrupt campus," Mass said. "It's irrelevant to their safety threat, and also not relevant to what they've been charged with."

But panelists are not required to restrict themselves to technical and legal arguments when reviewing suspensions under the code, according to Smith.

"The panel looks at the whole range of the student and makes a decision based on those factors," he said.

He added the student code of conduct will be under revision and reintroduced in new form soon.

"I think it's due for some thorough reconsideration," he said. "At that time, some of the procedural measures brought up in the ACLU letter will be taken into consideration."


Contact James Zhao at [email protected]

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