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“Clear and convincing” deserves support
Next week, GUSA will hold a referendum in support of raising the Student Code of Conduct’s evidentiary standard from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing.” This reform will improve the disciplinary process by requiring the University to provide more substantial evidence that students actually committed the violation for which they are being convicted. Disciplinary sanctions can impact students’ abilities to secure jobs, internships, and, in some cases, study abroad clearances.
The Office of Student Conduct should take its disciplinary role seriously, and that includes respecting students’ right to have their cases reviewed in the best light possible. Since the disciplinary procedure is by no means judicial, a stringent evidentiary standard is the closest students are likely to come to presumed innocence. This referendum deserves student support, and signifies the most worthwhile endeavor to come out of GUSA so far this year.
Last spring, GUSA’s resolution recommending student code of conduct reform went ignored by the administration and unacknowledged by Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson. This referendum is an ideal next step in encouraging the administration to adopt this reform. It will give students the opportunity to demonstrate their support for the reform, using one of the only channels available for students to voice their opinions to the University.
Even if the referendum does indeed pass, the administration is in no way bound to honor it. But that does not mean that it cannot have a powerful impact. The Hoya’s editorial board expressed concern that if a broadly supported referendum goes unacknowledged by the administration, students will lose faith in GUSA’s ability to enact change.
On the contrary, GUSA should not avoid advocating for positive change for fear of being discredited. Given the body’s weak institutional influence on the University—GUSA is not represented on the Board of Directors, and most of their negotiations with the University occur in informal backrooms—GUSA should use open and transparent channels to pressure the University in a public forum.
When the Voice’s editorial board endorsed Clara Gustafson and Vail Kohnert-Yount during last spring’s election, we encouraged them to pressure the administration outside the normal channels. Although early in their term, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount are doing exactly what it is that caused us to throw our support behind them in the first place—fighting to make changes that will really impact student life and giving weight to student opinion in dealings with the administration.
This opportunity to support the GUSA Executive—and to send the administration our own “clear and convincing” message—is not one to be wasted, and will set the tone for student-administration relations for the rest of the academic year. The “more likely than not” threshold of guilt does a disservice to students, and we should vote “yes” to further our disciplinary rights on this campus.