Regents approve new rules for student misconduct

ChicagoTribune.com
By RYAN J. FOLEY | Associated Press Writer
June 5, 2009

MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin campuses will be able to discipline students for serious off-campus misconduct for the first time under a controversial policy adopted Friday.

After more than two years of review and debate, the Board of Regents voted 15-2 to adopt the first rewrite of system rules governing student misconduct since 1996. The rules now go to the Legislature for a final review but are expected to be in place for the upcoming school year.

The UW System proposed the policy in response to neighbors at UW-Milwaukee and other campuses who want the universities to crack down on rowdy behavior among students. The changes will allow schools to seek discipline against students who commit repeated and serious municipal violations such as noise ordinances or other more serious crimes like sexual assault.

But UW System spokesman David Giroux cautioned this week the rules may do little to stop anything beyond the most egregious examples of criminal behavior.

“It’s the students who repeatedly make very serious errors in judgment who might someday be held accountable for those under these new proposed rules,” he said.

Regent Tom Loftus of Sun Prairie led an unsuccessful push on Friday to kill the new rules. He was joined by Regent Elizabeth Burmaster of Madison in voting no.

“One of the iron rules of politics is that if you put a bad idea in front of a group enough times, they’ll eventually pass it. This is a bad idea,” Loftus said. “To extend the long arm of the bureaucracy of a university to off-campus for the regulation and prosecution of off-campus conduct, there’s no compelling reason to do this. This university has gotten by more than 150 years without this.”

He said neighbors expecting the policy to result in major changes are “getting snookered.”

But Regent Michael Spector of Milwaukee said the universities had some responsibility to protect neighbors from students that behave “beyond the boundaries of reasonableness.”

“I personally think it is important we extend our sanctions for bad behavior to limited off-campus circumstances,” he said.

Beyond the regulation of off-campus behavior, the most contentious part of the debate dealt with whether students facing suspension and expulsion could have lawyers represent them during disciplinary hearings.

Advocates for students argued they deserved the right to a lawyer when accused of misconduct. But deans said they worried the hearings would become too legalistic, lose their educational purpose and allow sexual assault victims to be aggressively questioned.

The result was what Regent Danae Davis of Milwaukee called “a delicate compromise.”

The policy explicitly gives students the right to hire a lawyer for the first time to call and cross-examine witnesses and present arguments and information on their behalf. The students themselves, however, are expected to answer questions during the hearings.

A survey of UW institutions ordered by the regents shows such hearings are rare. The data shows UW campuses suspended 188 students in the last five years and expelled 13.

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