Hearings for Wheeler Protesters Closed to Public, Press

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Closed hearings will begin Monday for the Wheeler protesters accused of violating UC Berkeley's Student Code of Conduct.

The hearing will be the first of 32 hearings for students who participated in the April 9 sit-in at Wheeler Hall.

Originally, 41 students were charged with conduct violations for the sit-in.

But nine students have signed "informal resolutions" since the sit-in that were not an admission of responsibility or guilt, said Hoang Phan, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Under the resolution, the students will undergo a "stayed suspension," which will place them on probation for one semester. If they commit any violations of the Student Code of Conduct during the semester they will automatically be suspended from classes.

But if the student is not charged with any further violations the university will change the suspension penalty to a "warning, no report," Phan said.

"A warning stays in your file and can be used against you later," Phan said. "But it cannot be released outside of the university."

Roberto Hernandez, who was a UC Berkeley student at the time of the sit-in, said he requested that his hearing be open to the public.

University officials denied the request, Hernandez said.

UC Berkeley officials declined to comment on the decision.

"We are concerned and disturbed that (the university) didn't grant (Hernandez) the public hearing he wanted," said Bryant Yang, chief of staff for the UC Berkeley Student Advocate Office. "The hearing should be accessible to students."

The Student Conduct Hearing Committee, which usually consists of two faculty members, one staff member, one undergraduate and one graduate student, is currently made up of three faculty members and will make recommendations for sentencing the protesters.

Dean of Students Karen Kenney normally makes the final decision on student conduct cases. But Kenney will serve as a witness for the prosecution in the cases and has thus recused herself from deciding the trial out of conflict of interest.

Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who has said he has a "zero-tolerance policy" against the Wheeler protest, or Assistant Chancellor John Cummins could take Kenney's place in the final sentencing, said Marina Torres, student advocate associate for student conduct.

"It's interesting that (Berdahl) would be the one to make the final decision given that he has (already) shown his position on this case," she said.

The 32 students requested a group hearing on the basis that they are all facing the same charges and will all present similar cases, Torres said.

But the university decided to hold individual hearings closed to the press and public.

"This process allows each student to present his or her particular case to the hearing panel," said UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore.


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