Wisconsin Faculty and Students Rise in Defense of Due Process

By March 4, 2009

I am on tour this week in Wisconsin because of proposed changes to UWS 17 (PDFs), the part of the Wisconsin Administrative Code that applies to University of Wisconsin student non-academic disciplinary matters. The proposed changes, as I outlined earlier today, seriously diminish the due process rights of students and add so much uncertainty (in the form of administrative discretion) to the process that UW is practically asking for due process lawsuits in the future.

Yesterday I spoke to outraged audiences at UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stevens Point. Tonight, I will be speaking in Madison at 6:00 pm. The biggest events are yet to come: on Thursday, I will be speaking in Milwaukee at 4:30 pm in Zelazo Center, Room 250, then at a press conference organized by the student government in the same location at 6:30 pm, and maybe even at the Board of Regents public hearing (PDF) at 7:00 pm in Zelazo 280, 2419 E. Kenwood Boulevard, in Milwaukee. The student leaders at UW-Milwaukee wisely scheduled the information session and press conference right next to the location of the Regents’ hearing.

Faculty and student groups have been expressing serious reservations about the changes. We have reported already on the statements by UW-Madison Professor Don Downs, the faculty’s Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights, and members of the student press. To name a few, these include the Badger Herald at UW-Madison, the Advance-Titan at UW-Oshkosh, the Daily Cardinal at UW-Madison, and The Flip Side at UW-Eau Claire.

The Flip Side this week wisely points to this line in the Regents’ explanation of the new rules:

[T]he Review Committee … recognizes that civil and criminal justice systems operate independently of, and have different goals from, the University.

Thus, writer Sara Adams aptly and succinctly titles her article, "University System Rejects Civil Justice as University Goal."

As for the faculty, the UW-Oshkosh Faculty Senate, for one, formally registered its own reservations last year. Among these were the point FIRE often makes about a university acting too quickly to punish students for off-campus criminal cases: "[W]hat if a student is accused of dealing drugs off campus (UWS 17.09(6)) and is then later exonerated by the courts? If we sanctioned the student, as granted under this section, then haven’t we denied the student appropriate due process[?]" The Senate also objected to "a number of sections being worded with authoritarian vagueness."

At first, the Oshkosh Faculty Senate had only been given two weeks to prepare its response to the proposed changes, so it unanimously passed a motion stating that the Senate "strongly objects to the short time frame for feedback." This looks like good evidence that the Regents were trying to push through the changes without adequate feedback.

Let me ask this: If the new UWS disciplinary rules are, as the Regents have argued, supposed to be more "educational" and "less legalistic," then why were the faculty themselves given such a relatively small role in the revision and review process? Reading the ten paragraphs of the "review process" shows that the faculty were effectively shut out as much as possible, with the faculty not being named a single time in that section:

[T]he Committee considered the diverse viewpoints and interests of students, staff, and the public through a process designed to incorporate a broad range of views.

In theory, there is still time to join the debate. Here is the information about Thursday’s hearing (PDF):

The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System will hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to Chapters UWS 17, and 18, Wisconsin Administrative Code, pertaining to student non-academic misconduct and conduct on university lands….

Those wishing to speak at the public hearing are asked to register at the hearing and to limit their remarks to two to three minutes so that there will be time for all to be heard.

Written remarks also are invited and may be submitted at the hearing or by 4:30 p.m. on March 13, 2009 to: Jane Radue, Assistant Director, UW System Office of Operations Review and Audit; 780 Regent Street, Suite 210, Madison, WI 53715; E-mail: admincodecomment@uwsa.edu.

I encourage everyone with a healthy interest in due process to send their written remarks to the above address and to send me a copy.

Schools: University of Wisconsin – Madison Cases: University of Wisconsin: Students’ Due Process Rights