General Faculty Approves Honor Code Changes

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The General Faculty Council and Student Senate voted on proposed revisions to the Honor Code and the Campus Code of Conduct during the General Faculty meeting Oct. 4. The Honor Code amendments passed thanks to overwhelming support from faculty, though Student Senate voted unanimously against the changes. Revisions to the Campus Code of Conduct were tabled and will be revisited at the General Faculty meeting in November.

With the Honor Code amendments, students will now receive communications regarding Honor Code violations and updates via email rather than through their OCMR mailboxes. The language within the Honor Code has also been changed, replacing the phrase “judicial system” with “student conduct system.” Additionally, there will no longer be an option for a secondary appeal to the President’s Office.

The period that a student may remain on campus after being suspended for an Honor Code violation has been extended from two to five days. The window for appeal has also been reduced from ten business days to five business days. These changes have been effective since the Oct. 4 meeting.

“Overall, the goal for the revisions is to provide an update to policies to reflect changes in, for example, best practices, state and federal laws, and technology,” said Thom Julian, assistant dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. “Oberlin community members should know that there was a very long process to recommend the changes that were presented at the October General Faculty meeting.”

Student Senate Vice Chair and College junior Kameron Dunbar said that Senate voted against the Honor Code revisions but did not strongly reject them.

“Part of why we objected to it was that it was the first time we were seeing it, so it almost felt as though these changes were being railroaded in, and we weren’t sure where they were coming from,” Dunbar said.

Julian said the process was meant to “make policies more accessible.” However, Dunbar questions if the changes will cause problems for some students, pointing to the shortened window for appeal.

“By shortening that timeframe, I think we reduce students’ abilities to make those decisions with the sort of conscientious thought processes that they need,” Dunbar said.

With no official communication to students regarding the changes, many don’t understand the General Faculty or administration’s intentions behind the amendments.

“It doesn’t seem like a super huge deal to me, but I also don’t understand why it’d be necessary,” said College first-year Kate Fishman.

The changes were the result of a 10-month process during which members of the Dean of Students Office, Residential Education Staff, and others reviewed the codes. Before the October vote, the changes were reviewed by the Interim Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary Donica Varner and General Faculty’s Student Life Committee.

The proposed revisions to the Campus Code of Conduct are more extensive and, as Dunbar puts it, “a bit unclear in the language.” For this reason, the students and faculty brought many questions at the October General Faculty meeting.

To Dunbar, the most concerning proposed change to the Campus Code of Conduct is the amendment to “allow for the director of student conduct and community standards to suspend a student if they accept responsibility for an act that will likely result in suspension,” as it reads in Julian’s presentation to the General Faculty.

“When I first read that it seemed [like a] pretty egregious removal of due process rights or due process obligations in basically saying that the student conduct officer, whoever that may be, has the power to unilaterally suspend a student if they admit to something that could end in suspension,” Dunbar said.

“I think that sort of loose language is dangerous because I don’t think it speaks to the significance of the consequences they’d be facing,” Dunbar added.

When Dunbar and other Senators voiced their grievances regarding this amendment at the meeting, many faculty members seemed unconcerned, though the Senators’ qualms were met with consideration from the faculty and even gratitude for their contributions.

“I found it interesting in general faculty because [the removal of due process rights] wasn’t a concern that was on the minds of many faculty members,” he said.

This experience speaks to the significant role of Student Senate on the General Faculty Council, even as a minority.

“We are a very small percentage of the general faculty,” said College junior and Student Senator Meg Parker. “While it may seem that we don’t have a major impact numerically, I think this really goes to show how impactful we can be when we speak up together. Our votes can’t change the outcome, but we can directly impact the conversation and provide unique context that wouldn’t be present otherwise.”

Although the proposed amendments to the Honor Code and Campus Code of Conduct were widely unpopular with Student Senate, senators do see a need for the revisions, as the Honor Code hasn’t been tweaked since May 2008.

“I think the changes are a principally a good thing,” said Parker. “We haven’t revised the code of conduct in almost ten years, and Thom Julian wants to make the information more accessible and consolidate all of it, which sounds like a very good idea to me. Thom has a lot of really good ideas for the office. But, I think some of the language proposed in the changes to the student conduct policy could use some amending and clarifications in some places.”

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