Misconduct Hearings' Handling Questioned

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Months after students were charged with misconduct for their involvement in demonstrations last November, conduct hearings commenced last Thursday, but questions about UC Berkeley officials' handling of the cases have clouded the proceedings in controversy.

The proceedings, since their inception, have been fraught with multiple allegations of procedural violations on the part of the Office of Student Conduct. In response to these allegations, officials from both the campus and the office said they could not comment on specific cases but said they follow procedure as laid out by the campus code of conduct.

"The code is just a tool for (the office) - they use it when it's to their own advantage and ignore it when it isn't," said Daniela Urban, a student at the UC Berkeley School of Law and member of the Campus Rights Project who has been advising students charged with conduct violations. "They don't see the code as a written text they have to adhere to."

According to Susan Trageser, director of the office, conduct proceedings are not arbitrary but directly follow the process that is laid out in the student code. If students have concerns over violations, there is a process in the code to address them, she added.

Regardless of possible procedural violations, both students and campus officials agree the proceedings have been exceedingly drawn out­.

The Timeline

According to students, the delays in proceedings may be attributed primarily to the suspension of the timeline for conduct hearings as well as to the multiple iterations of the code, both of which complicated the proceedings.

Campus officials and students worked on changes to the code over spring and summer 2009 but did not institute the new code until the beginning of spring 2010.

Provisions in the code have always maintained that students be charged within 30 days of misconduct and tried 45 days after being charged. But the old code reserved the right to suspend the timeline expressly to the Dean of Students, currently Jonathan Poullard. The new code allows either the dean, or his or her designee, to suspend the code.

Poullard could not be reached for comment as of press time.

But Christina Gonzales, associate dean of students, suspended the code in August 2009, before the new code was instituted, in response to budget-induced campus-wide furloughs. She said given the days that staff would be able to work, the timeline was no longer "feasible."

Students charged for conduct violations during the protests in November 2009 argued that the timeline's suspension was invalid because the language of the code at the time of the suspension precluded Gonzales from suspending the timeline.

"Suspending the timeline has had the most significant impact," Urban said. "Every time something doesn't happen, (the office says) the timeline has been suspended. It's absurd, stringing these people along for 10 months."

Gonzales has maintained that she had the authority to suspend the code because Poullard was "out of the office," and in his absence, she is the acting dean of students.

Civil Action

If the delays continue, bringing the issue to court is an option that is on the table, according to Dan Siegel, a civil rights lawyer with Oakland-based law firm Siegel & Yee, which has been supervising the law students who are advising the students facing misconduct charges.

In April, the firm issued a letter to campus officials demanding unrestricted legal representation for students and the dismissal of charges against students charged with misconduct during fall 2009's protests. Later that month, the campus responded to the firm, dismissing its demands.

The group is considering asking a judge to issue an injunction either forbidding the university from proceeding with the charges or at least ordering the campus to resolve the hearings quickly, Siegel said.

"We're kind of at the end of our rope here," he said. "We thought that the university would move promptly to get these cases solved when school started, but we've been involved in what seems like endless conversations and prehearings and hearings that are rescheduled, postponed and cancelled at the last minute."

According to Gonzales, students should be able to resolve the issues without having to turn to outside mediation.

"The students on this campus are some of the smartest in the world along with our staff and faculty," Gonzales said. "We should be able to resolve this."


Aaida Samad covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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