Surprisingly Firm Conduct Sanction Irks Protesters

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Frustration is growing among students charged with misconduct for their involvement in last November's protests after one student received harsher sanctions Monday than those recommended at his hearing, increasing talk of a possible lawsuit against UC Berkeley.

The student, who did not want to release his name for fear of retribution by the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards, received a letter Monday morning from Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard's designee Steven Sutton imposing two sanctions - disciplinary probation and a reflective writing assignment - according to Daniela Urban, a student at the UC Berkeley School of Law and member of the Campus Rights Project, which has been advising students.

Urban said the sanctions are significantly harsher than what the student's hearing panel recommended in mid-October, which was a reflective writing assignment and a warning letter.

"I was shocked because on the one hand, I was expecting the sanctions that the hearing panel had recommended," the student said. "It blows my mind. Why did we have a hearing if the dean, or in this case his designee, was going to arbitrarily impose whatever sanction he wanted anyway?"

According to Christina Gonzales, associate dean of students, the sanctions initially proposed by the panel are only recommendations. Under the campus student code of conduct, the dean of students or his designee may impose different sanctions, taking into account factors including the alleged behavior the student was found responsible for and the impact to the campus community, she said in an e-mail.

She added that instances of the dean or his designee changing sanctions recommended by the panel are uncommon, citing only three or four such changes in the last four years.

While the decision on sanctions is final, concerns regarding the sanctioning process, alleged procedural violations and decisions made throughout the conduct proceedings can be appealed to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Harry Le Grande within 10 days of receiving sanctions, according to Gonzales.

However, the student said he is "skeptical that (his concerns) are going to be heard."

"There is no recourse within this system," said Neil Satterlund, a campus law student and member of the Campus Rights Project. "We are very close to believing that there is no longer any reason to participate in this process."

If the student's appeal is rejected, as the student said he predicts it will be, taking the issue to court is an option.

"We've talked about filing a lawsuit against the university," the student said. "I hope that happens. The only possible way that anything good can come of this situation is by going outside and levering some sort of external pressure against the university. They won't listen otherwise."

According to Gonzales, without a student actually having gone through the appeals process, it seems too "speculative" to state whether it would be rejected.

She added that going outside of the campus should not be necessary because should an appeal be rejected, there are still officials - including Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Chancellor Robert Birgeneau - who would be willing to sit down and "talk about the issues."

"Whenever a decision is made, if there's anything that wasn't appropriate, there is always some policy that can assist a student, staff or faculty member to go to another route or bring up these issues," she said. "They shouldn't have to go outside of the university."


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

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