Student Editorial Blasts Proposed Revisions to University of Wisconsin Misconduct Code

By October 7, 2008

In yesterday’s editorial, "We’re down with Downs," the Badger Herald editorial board blasted the proposed policy revisions to the University of Wisconsin misconduct code and expressed support for Professor Donald Downs’ criticisms of the policy. The Badger offered the same concerns over lowering the standard of proof for sexual harassment and "[denial of] right to counsel during disciplinary hearings" articulated in the statement released yesterday by Downs’ Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Furthermore, the editorial expressed concern over the parts of the policy that establish jurisdiction. Supposedly, the policy changes only regard serious criminal offenses such as sexual assault and battery, formerly under the sole jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. But certain parts of the policy appear to grant incredible discretionary power to the enforcing administrators. A student can be punished if it is determined that his conduct "demonstrates a pattern of behavior that seriously impairs the university’s ability to fulfill its teaching, research or public-service missions." Such a vague statement could easily reach to realms of action far beyond criminal offenses and infringe upon students’ rights.

The editorial also takes aim at the safety concerns expressed by the administration, calling them "depressingly political":

It’s disheartening that a system of higher education would use such crudely unsophisticated reasoning to justify a policy that presents such clear concerns for students’ due process rights.

Due process can be a difficult issue, but we cannot disagree with the editorial board’s conclusion:

Hopefully, the state Legislature will heed the advice of dissenters like Downs and require the university to offer its community higher standards of justice.