Misconduct Hearing Delays Spark Discord

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For UC Berkeley graduate student Zack Norwood, the last 14 months have been difficult as he struggles to balance work toward completing his degree with countless hours spent dealing with his pending student conduct proceedings.

Though Norwood, who is facing charges stemming from his involvement in the occupation of Wheeler Hall in November 2009, initially planned to graduate last fall or summer, he was forced to delay in part because of time spent dealing with student conduct proceedings.

"It affected my classes for sure," Norwood said. "It's emotionally burdensome to deal with, even if it's not time consuming. ... Do you know the number of hours I've spent in meetings? Days and days, weeks of time."

Norwood has been at the campus since 2005 working on a concurrent master's degree in mechanical engineering - which he completed in 2009 - and doctorate in energy and resources. The proceedings have also had an impact on his ability to complete his thesis.

Norwood is one of about a dozen students still waiting for resolution of their conduct hearings for their involvement in the protests that shook the campus in November 2009, according to Sean Graham, a student at the UC Berkeley School of Law and a member of the Campus Rights Project - a group advising students dealing with misconduct charges.

The misconduct proceedings - which have been drawn out over the course of more than 14 months - have stirred contention since their beginning, with multiple allegations by students of procedural violations and delays on the part of the campus, as well as two lawsuits filed by students last semester against hearing panel chairs for their involvement in the process.

In response to these allegations, officials from both the campus and the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards have maintained that while they cannot comment on specific conduct cases, proceedings have followed the conduct code.

Graham said in an e-mail that the delays in the proceedings constituted an "egregious violation of students' rights." The UC's Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline entitles students to hearings that are "prompt and fair," but Graham said given the delays, students have had the threat of punishment hanging over their heads, amounting to a "de facto disciplinary probation."

"It's ludicrous, and I don't know how they get away with this sort of process," Norwood said. "At this point we've been punished more than we would have been had we received sanctioning. ... Our ability to function as students has been compromised trying to navigate this ridiculous process."

According to Christina Gonzales, the campus associate dean of students, the delays in the process are due in part to difficulty in assembling hearing panels given the large amount of schedules - of faculty, staff and students on the panels - that have to be juggled for each hearing to be scheduled. She added, however, that the campus is trying to "expedite the process as quickly as they can."

"I can see and hear a little bit of the frustration because it's taking a while, but this is the process that was outlined in the code, and we're following the code," Gonzales said. "Our goal is to get this completed before the end of the semester."

However, at a public hearing last Friday for senior Julian Martinez - a student charged with misconduct for participating in the Wheeler Hall occupation in November 2009 - Thomas Frampton, a campus law student and member of the Campus Rights Project, alleged that while campus officials have maintained that staff layoffs are part of the reason for delays, information from public records shows that this was not the case.

According to the records, since January 2010 the campus held about 25 panel hearings and resolved around 29 cases.

According to Susan Trageser, director for the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards, the conduct code outlines options for a student to resolve his or her conduct case either informally through an administrative disposition or formally through a hearing, and the duration of conduct cases depends on a variety of factors.

"The length of time to reach resolution will vary depending on the complexity of the case, number of persons involved, and level of engagement by the responding student in the conduct process," Trageser said in an e-mail.

According to Marika Iyer, a junior peace and conflict studies major facing misconduct charges for her involvement in the occupation of Wheeler Hall in November 2009, as a result of the delays, some students trying to graduate by the end of this semester have had to settle their cases because otherwise their degrees could be withheld.

The campus Code of Student Conduct states that "an academic degree may be deferred when disciplinary proceedings are pending."

Iyer said that despite the delays she has faced, she will continue with the conduct proceedings.

"The biggest reason that I'm sticking with this process is that I still have a big sense that I didn't do anything wrong that day," Iyer said. "I feel like what happened that day was a constructive process. The destruction has come from the police and the administration in their decisions that day and in the days following."


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

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